Hurdles remain before SAN to gain acceptance

Storage-area networking will finally come into its own in 2000 - provided customers and vendors understand the concept.

Customers want to know about storage-area networks (SAN) and be educated beyond the vendor and media hype, said Mike Adams, an analyst at Giga Information Group. Vendors must answer questions about the business benefits of SAN products, addressing the issues customers are facing and how the technology can help them, Adams said.

Juan Perez, a technology consultant for the New York-based Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), said he feels some frustration regarding SAN technology. Vendors are offering a few pieces of the technology puzzle, but there's no guarantee they will function together, he said. TIAA has a Fibre Channel direct connection to create a SAN, but Perez said the upgrade from a direct SCSI connection to a SAN environment won't be seamless.

"I want to find a real SAN that works with existing applications" such as Novell's NetWare 4, which TIAA will upgrade to NetWare 5, and a custom imaging application, Perez said. "Companies claim they can do it, but it's not usable. I want an off-the-shelf product, not one that only works in a lab."

Storage vendors had better hope they can come up with a complete product for SANs. According to market researcher International Data Corp., the storage market will tally $34.3 billion in revenue this year, with the majority of sales coming from SAN-ready systems. But vendors will have to solve glaring problems - including serverless backup, secure-access control and interoperability - to meet customers' needs.

"Companies aren't even bothering with SANs," but they need some kind of operation that can store data and doesn't require any downtime, said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group. "Most companies do backups in case someone does something stupid," Duplessie said.

SANs would mitigate the amount of downtime required to back up data, but secure-access control is holding back the storage market's hottest trend. According to Duplessie, secure-access control prevents one node from viewing and accessing storage resources allocated to a different node in a shared storage environment. But there's no management standard to limit a server's operating system to a defined part of the SAN, analysts said.

For example, Windows NT and Solaris servers view any storage space they see in a SAN as entirely theirs and end up overriding each other's information. By next year, Duplessie said, companies will roll out reliable secure-access products, allowing servers to recognise the space allotted to them.

Analysts also said serverless backups will be a key component of SANs' success. Currently, the server manages the backup from disks to a tape drive.

When serverless backup arrives, it will be the "killer app" for SANs, Duplessie said. It will allow data to be stored from the disk to tape devices over a Fibre Channel ring without bogging down the server, he said.

A big vendor needs to drive a SAN standard, and no one has stepped forward to date, Duplessie said. He predicts a company that's not involved in storage management, such as Cisco Systems, will create a standard. This move would allow a company to add to its capital and move into promising areas not dominated by anyone, he added.

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