Analysis: SAN popularity rising, but users' doubts linger

Vendors are shouting from the rooftops that this is the year of the SAN. But users are barely whispering their support for storage-area networks (SAN).

Despite having SAN components, users are struggling with issues such as cost, interoperability and unproven technology.

These concerns were apparent in last month's Computerworld survey, when 160 information technology sites were asked about their current SAN use or implementation plans.

Of the US corporations and federal IT sites surveyed, 66 have no SAN implementation plans, 80 are in the initial deployment stages and 14 have been using SANs for more than three months.

Richard Ptak, an analyst at Hurwitz Group, said vendors are actively educating users about SANs. Customers are afraid of the unknown and the risks, but education "will get companies that are sitting back to move quickly," Ptak said.

And vendors still lack a standard text to teach timid users. The current standards battle is between the Fibre Alliance, led by EMC, and the Storage Networking Industry Association. Neither side is very close to defining any kind of common ground.

As a result of this lack of agreement on standards, customers are forced to go with vendor-specific systems, said Adam Couture, an analyst at Dataquest in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Users surveyed expressed concern over SANs.

Akhtar Rahmetulla, strategic architect at Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco, recently started researching SANs. He said he's looking at EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Compaq Computer in Houston and Xiotech.

A 3-terabyte box with a Fibre Channel switch from EMC is priced at $400,000, while a system with the same configuration from Compaq is $98,000, said Rahmetulla.

For Chris Wallis, vice president of MIS at Old First Bank in Baltimore, cost isn't the primary concern. Reliability is.

"The last thing we want is to lose customer data. So that's why we're going slowly," said Wallis.

Wallis' concern is echoed by David Leuck, technical services manager for Culver City, California. Leuck has used SAN components for one year, including Islandia, New York-based Computer Associates International's ArcserveIT. While it's flexible, ArcserveIT lacks stability and reliability in backup and disaster recovery, said Leuck.

Questioning the Future

Such gripes led Chris Selland, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, to question the future of SANs.

"The market is immature, and it's still early. But will it ever get big?" Selland said. SANs appeal to IT workers, but they have to lock into one vendor. And "it's near the point where customers will throw their hands up and look at different models," he said.

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More about CA TechnologiesCompaqCompaqDataquestEMC CorporationHitachi AustraliaHitachi DataHitachi VantaraHitachi VantaraHurwitz GroupLevi StraussStorage Networking Industry AssociationXiotechYankee Group

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