NAS or SANs? Will Your (Future) Storage Manager Decide?


If your company is short on storage, should you turn to an outside SSP
(storage services provider) or go it alone? If you do keep storage
management in-house, does it make more sense to invest in SAN (storage area
network) or NAS (network-attached storage)? More organizations are now
hiring their own storage managers to help deal with these matters,
according to some speakers at this week’s Internet World show.


In many organizations, though, storage management still falls somewhere
between the cracks, said Jack Domme, Senior Director of Product and Sales
and Engineering at StorageNetworks, during one session at the conference in
New York City. Systems administrators, network managers, and DBAs (database
administrators) each own some – but not all – of the requisite skills.


“Each understands a niche,” Domme maintained. A DBA, for instance, might go
to a network manager or systems administrator for help with disk
partitioning. Meanwhile, in many places, nobody on board is well acquainted
with the ins-and-outs of SAN switching fabrics, for example.


More platforms, more complexity

In another session, Vixtel CTO Stuart Berman noted that heterogenous
environments can bring even more complexity. Berman pointed to research by
the Aberdeen Group, in which 75 percent of survey respondents said they
were unwilling to deploy SANs across multiplatform Unix/Microsoft Windows
enterprises.


Smaller companies often add storage to the IT director’s already long list
of responsibilities, Berman said. Larger organizations dish out storage
management chores in myriad ways.


Several panelists pinpointed a trend toward adding storage administrators
to the company payroll. Hewlett-Packard is one company that already uses
this strategy internally. HP’s storage administrators collaborate not just
with other technicians, but also with “knowledge engineers” and “content
managers” from HP’s business side, said John Selep, product marketing
manager in HP’s Data Protection division.


HP’s internal storage management is further broken down into subcategories.
“We even have tape management people,” Selep elaborated. “A lot of
specialization can emerge.”


Selep didn’t advocate this level of specialization for everyone, however.
“You can’t afford to double your staff every two years,” he said. “You need
tools.”


Tools can add problems to storage stew

Storage management tools, though, can be problematic in and of themselves,
according to Berman. Right now, storage companies show a high level of
“vertical integration” – that is, integration between storage products in
their own line-ups – and not enough “horizontal integration,” or
cross vendor interoperability.


As a result, customers tend to get locked into their vendors. Moreover,
within some vendors’ management suites, quality can vary markedly from one
tool to the next.


In the future, though, storage software will become more “commoditized,”
according to Patty Barkley, storage networking marketing manager at CNT.
Vendors will also start to release “predictive and automated” storage
tools.


The speakers also harkened to future adoption of industry standards in
areas ranging from fabric switching to plug-and-play disk drives.


Some SSPs aren’t doing so hot

Contracting with an outside SSP is another approach to handling data. “But
a lot of SSPs aren’t doing so well these days,” Berman acknowledged.
“People really want to keep their own data inhouse.”

When companies do decide to take on outside partners, they’re generally
more amenable to consultants who will work on-site, he added.


Will tape wind down one day?

“Does tape have a future?” asked a user attending one of the sessions.
“Yes,” answered Mark O’Malley, Quantum’s senior manager for business
planning. “Disk storage doesn’t give you as much protection against data
loss in case of disaster.”


Quantum plans to start doubling the capacity of its tape storage products
every six months, according to O’Malley. He admitted, though, that tape will probably wind down at some point,
citing emerging technologies such as holographic storage and solid state
chips.


Several attendees raised questions around choosing between NAS and SANs for
disk storage. The decision should revolve around the application, together
with cost and storage management considerations, according to the
speakers..


As Domme sees it, NAS is appropriate for storing distributed Web files, for
instance. “Yahoo runs on a series of NAS boxes. NAS is cheap to put in, and
you can get it going within 30 minutes,” he added.


“The jury is still out,” though, on whether it’s wiser to install separate
NAS boxes, or to install NAS software on top of a SAN.


Don’t use NAS with databases

Typically, NAS runs over Ethernet, whereas SANs operate over fiber channel,
Berman observed. SANs are particularly well suited to transactional
database applications.


“NAS doesn’t work well with Oracle or DB2,” he illustrated.. On the other
hand, SAN still faces scalability constraints, even when FC is routed over
IP, since FC relies on only a single routing protocol.


Lately, some industry analysts have noted a trend toward the use of SANs
for enterprise storage consolidation. Berman, though, dismissed this theory
as “vendor hype.”


Tiny SANs

To the contrary, most SANs running today are small in scope, according to
Berman. As evidence, Berman cited a study by Enterprise Management
Associates, another industry analyst firm, showing that today’s “average
SAN” consists of only 5.2 servers.


Many corporate department and small business are completely unaware that
they’re already running SANs, according to Berman. Vendors such as Compaq
are now embedding SAN technology into their RAID racks.


Berman also predicted that future industry standardization will go hand-in-hand
with “Cisco-ization” of SAN fabric switching. He dubbed this movement
“the Cisco effect.”


Cisco recently decided to take spin-off outfit Andiamo back inhouse,
thereby throwing a jumbo-sized hat into the ring against current industry
leaders Brocade and McData.


‘Muster the IT guy’

Berman doled out other tips, too. Corporate decisions to add more storage
capacity are often driven by “business strategy and goals.”


When these decisions reach the IT department, IT will often retort, “But we
don’t have the infrastructure to do this.” Instead, organizations should
“get the IT guy mustered right up front.”


For their own part, IT staff should “start small, and then extend at a
reasonable pace,” Berman advised.


“Don’t touch a falling knife,” he added. “Be careful about how much you
invest in storage technologies that look like they might be on their way
out.”


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Jacqueline Emigh

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