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How your SAN will evolve

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Storage technologists and industry analysts predict how the SAN will evolve and what you need to do to prepare for the changes.

in five years, the enterprise SAN might be a service running in the cloud. Or a huge collection of DAS, like a giant mainframe DASD farm of old. It might be cableless, contained in a pre-wired cabinet or wireless. Object-based storage could make blocks and files irrelevant. The SAN might even be diskless if solid-state disk (SSD) economies of scale and adoption accelerate in a hockey stick curve. Whatever form it takes, the SAN of the future will be more consolidated, virtualized, automated and greener.

Or, as many predict, the changes will be evolutionary and not revolutionary; in five years, the SAN will be a lot like the enterprise SAN of today: just faster, packed with more disk capacity, cheaper on a cost/GB basis, a little easier to manage and less energy hungry.

Storage recently asked storage vendors, industry analysts and technologists serving on storage industry associations about where they see the SAN heading. There may not be sweeping architectural changes in five years, but there will be changes in the basic building blocks of the SAN infrastructure: networks and protocols; switches; storage arrays, disks and controllers; and SAN management.

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Networks and protocols
Today, only about half of the storage deployed is networked, says Jackie Ross, VP, business development at Cisco Systems Inc. In five years, the amount of networked storage will increase to 70%, she suggests.

Among networked storage, Fibre Channel (FC) is the dominant storage networking protocol in the enterprise data center with more than an 80% market share, according to Skip Jones, chairman of the Fibre Channel Industry Association. Roger Cox, a research VP at Stamford, CT-based Gartner Inc., projects a 66% share for FC by 2012.

By then, 8Gb/sec FC will be heading toward 16Gb/sec, while 10Gb/ sec Ethernet will be aiming for 40Gb/sec or even 100Gb/sec, keeping in line with the Ethernet's full order of magnitude increases. At that point, FC will face being left behind in terms of sheer network performance.

But before then, the game will shift. "We see the industry moving to a unified fabric," says Ross. That means combining FC and iSCSI on Ethernet. "The construct for FC storage won't change. You manage the SAN, provision LUNs and do masking the same way," she explains. What will change is the number of components the organization needs. There will be only one type of switch and one type of adapter. "Cabling, which represents 25% to 30% of the data center cost, is reduced, too," says Ross.

"In five years, the network infrastructure will have to be a unified platform that speaks multiple protocols," says Jason Schaffer, director of storage product management at Sun Microsystems Inc. "It will spit out whatever protocol the server or storage dictates." Rather than one protocol, there may be four, five or more.

This was first published in December 2008

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