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Cost crunch
Holdouts cite many reasons for remaining cool to networked storage, including the perceived complexity of SAN products, the immaturity of SAN products and standards and inadequate storage management software. Other issues include confusion over whether to use SANs or NAS devices and uncertainty about the value of vendor-touted features such as storage virtualization and snapshots.

"The vendors and system integrators don't even know when to use snapshot, what problems it solves and how to integrate it into a backup or archiving strategy realistically, so they're not doing the users any favors [by pushing it]," says Steve Kenniston, an Enterprise Storage Group analyst based in San Jose, CA.

But by far the single most significant roadblock facing networked storage holdouts is concern about high product costs--particularly for Fibre-based SANs-- and how quickly a networked storage investment will pay for itself.

"It's all about ROI right now," says Scott Stone, senior director for the professional services global storage practices at Sun Microsystems Inc. in Detroit. "If you can't show payback quickly, they'll show you the door."

The lingering economic downturn has made ROI a more important question among networked storage holdouts. First, at many organizations, dollars simply aren't available for IT infrastructure projects unless payback can be assured within 12 months, according

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to Brad Nisbet, a storage analyst at IDC. "In recent economic times, we find many storage customers are backing off from strategic implementations and are instead focusing on shorter-term, tactical decisions," says Nisbet, "such as using the storage they already have--in many cases, DAS."

"Many smaller companies are about where large enterprises were two years ago when it comes to deploying SANs," says Paul Ross, director of storage networking at EMC Corp. "The difference is that, compared to two years ago, the smaller guys aren't growing as fast."

That's been the case at 600-employee Stahls' Inc., a St. Clair Shores, MI, maker of graphics systems for printing on garments. Stahls' director of technology, Mike Terenzi, has tried for the last two years to persuade top management at the privately owned company to replace the firm's Dell PowerVault 201 DAS devices--which hold about 50GB of data--with a SAN. Terenzi argues that the SAN would improve disk utilization by consolidating data availability. The company's top managers, however, weren't buying the argument, partly because the down economy had slowed the typical data growth at Stahls' from a gigabyte per month to as little as half of that.

"Upper management didn't really understand what we would be getting with a SAN," says Terenzi. "It was a cost issue."

Recently, however, Terenzi changed his approach, arguing that it was necessary to replace DAS with a SAN in order to support a planned upgrade of the company's Great Plains enterprise resource planning system. Because the upgrade of the Great Plains software--Version 7.5--replaces a monolithic architecture with a separate application server and database server, Terenzi told Stahls' management there would be increased risk of down time--and lost sales--should one of the servers fail. A SAN, he says, would provide consolidated data storage and allow one of the Great Plains servers to continue operating--with access to all critical data--even if one of the two servers were to fail.

Two years after beginning his SAN campaign, Terenzi recently got approval for a $125,000 investment in a 60GB Dell/EMC Fibre Channel (FC) SAN built around Dell's rack storage. Terenzi is now testing the SAN setup and expects to roll it out with the Great Plains upgrade.

But Terenzi says that the SAN go-ahead never would have come about if not for the Great Plains project. "We were able to bring to the attention of top management that if the Great Plains database server were to go down for a day, we'd lose $200,000 in sales," says Terenzi. "With the SAN, we've eliminated that threat, short of a fire in the data center."

Cost concerns are also behind the reluctance of many organizations to expand use of an existing FC SAN. The University of Michigan, for example, deployed an FC SAN last March for its video-on-demand and unified messaging applications. The SAN, purchased from Sanrad Inc., in Tel Aviv, Israel, has proved more than adequate for meeting the demands of streaming video to multiple university departments and for storing the e-mail, voice mail and fax data generated by the university's 97,000 students. The 2TB FC SAN uses two 1TB JBODs that are redundantly attached to two separate controllers. The SAN setup connects to the university's wide area network via iSCSI, using three Gigabit Ethernet ports.

But while the FC SAN has performed well, university officials are shying away from moving more data and more applications to the SAN. Officials from various parts of the university are currently discussing building a centralized storage utility that different departments could tap into, paying for storage on an as-needed basis. But, says Daniel Hague, a senior engineer for the school, the university probably won't use the FC SAN for that project. Why? It's too expensive, he says.

"The JBODs are very expensive, and the controllers are very expensive," says Hague. "That means each time we need to expand it, we have to go through an involved cost-justification process. We'd like to be able purchase storage like anything else, through the central purchasing function. A drive shouldn't cost a fortune."

He says the university is now looking at other alternatives for storage, such as lower-cost IP-connected SANs.

This was first published in September 2003

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