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Special Supplement: Small office SANs

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Storage August 2006 Special Supplement

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Buyer beware

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Where low-cost storage vendors cut corners:
  • Compatibility testing
  • Burn-in
  • Redundant components
  • No-name components
  • GUI management software
  • Technical support
  • Features (RAID, replication, snapshots)
  • Additional ports
  • Expansion bays
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For really low-cost SANs, there are "third-tier vendors who may put together low-cost, unbranded components and skimp on burn-in and testing," says Schulz. Some advanced skills may be needed for debugging and compatibility testing of these systems (see "Buyer beware," at right).

Microsoft's Simple SAN initiative promises to drive the low end of the SMB SAN market. "It's because of Microsoft that SMBs will be able to do networked storage," says ESG's Duplessie. "Microsoft makes things cheap and easy compared to the expensive, complicated status quo. [It] can also get the other vendors to play nice. SMBs benefit when Microsoft pulls out the stick."

For SMBs that have standardized on Windows Server, Microsoft offers an array of advanced storage functionality like replication (using VSS), iSCSI initiators and multipathing IO (MPIO) built into the OS. This allows an SMB to avoid purchasing similar functionality from the storage vendor while reducing the likelihood of implementation, integration and compatibility problems. Microsoft's Simple SAN program has attracted a large number of storage companies, including Brocade Communications Systems Inc., EqualLogic, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM Corp., LeftHand, LSI Logic Corp., QLogic Corp. and others.

SMBs can also opt for NAS rather than SAN and still get the advantages of centralized management and backup. The problem with NAS is its file orientation. "Some applications like SQL Server or Microsoft Exchange prefer block storage, not file-based storage," explains Datalink's Robinson.

"You can run database applications on NAS," says Schulz. "You just have to take some precautions as to configuration." The biggest drawback is slower performance. Most small businesses don't run high-volume, high-performance database apps, so they're not likely to notice performance degradation.

Compared to even a year ago, SMBs have quite a few storage options beyond DAS and NAS. Today, they can opt for FC or iSCSI SANs, and choose among the most reputable vendors in the industry. They'll probably still need to spend more than $10,000 if they want an FC SAN, but that price barrier could change soon.

This was first published in August 2006

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