Data storage trends: Fabric intelligence


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Preparation is key
The results of the survey show that fabric intelligence is no longer a vision or technology argument--it's a trend that's already producing results for leading companies. Yet fabric intelligence is still a nascent movement, as only 21% of ESG's survey respondents have deployed solutions. As for the other 79%, it's important that they prepare for intelligence in the fabric by:

Not purchasing host- and storage-based products. These products may offer attractive functionality and maturity, but chances are strong that today's host and storage software will require a migration to the network within the next three to five years. Furthermore, storage software R&D will focus on network intelligence, so the latest and greatest features will arrive on the fabric first. Postpone software purchases until you're comfortable with network-based solutions. Short-term pain will be compensated by long-term flexibility and savings.

Planning to start slow and grow. Resist the temptation to go gaga over storage intelligence and take a much more pragmatic approach. Pick the one application that will serve the business or greatly reduce costs as a starting point. This will keep the architectural, training and deployment challenges reasonable and make the next application project flow more smoothly.

Investigating consolidation options. While easing into network intelligence, look for creative ways to simplify the architecture

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and eliminate vendors down the line. For example, can a single network package replace multiple replication packages? What would the ramifications be? Explore these alternatives to take full advantage of potential gains.

Vendors should plan on porting their software to leading intelligent storage switches, blade servers and appliances. During this heavy development period, storage firms must also:

Educate their customers. Many firms remain confused about intelligent fabric technology. Vendors need to build trust by schooling customers through presentations, training material, road shows and professional services.

Outline a migration path for legacy systems. Customers will want to know how vendors will hold their hands though the migration process. Smart vendors will make this a win-win by minimizing customer disruption while creating new product and services revenue opportunities.

Define new service options. One overwhelming user concern is service. What happens when multiple applications are running on a storage switch? How will they upgrade these systems? How will they test new application versions? Will vendors cooperate? These are legitimate questions that may be foreign to vendors that are used to only servicing their own equipment. Users need answers here, so vendors have some work to do.

Bottom line
The results of ESG's intelligent fabric survey paint a clear picture: The storage network will get smarter over the next few years, and users are willing to deal with architectural and process shortcomings to achieve their goals. This trend will force the storage industry to take a network-centric approach to their R&D, customer service and sales efforts. Strap yourself in, it's bound to be an interesting couple of years!

This was first published in August 2004

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