2000 won't be the year of interoperable SANs

Users may want interoperable, centrally managed storage area networks (SANs), but they won't get truly interoperable solutions for a couple years, according to vendors, analysts and users at Storage Networking World in Palm Desert, Calif., this week.

"I came here hoping to find a multi-platform, multi-vendor storage management tool, but I'm not finding that. There is a lot more emphasis here on selling the need for SAN," said Randy Irving, technical business analyst at State Farm Insurance Co. in Bloomington, Ill. He said he has three different SANs for three different platforms, each managed differently, and he wants common management.

He's not alone. During a speech at the conference, J. Rambhaskar, vice president of enterprise infrastructure at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. in New York, outlined what users need from vendors in order to succeed with SANs. Like Irving, Rambhaskar asked for a topology tool, a vendor-independent map of the entire network. In addition, he said there should be zero downtime, dynamic addition and deletion of resources and first-time data capture to reduce debug time or to eliminate the need for debugging.

"We plan to build a SAN within a year, but I'm worried that the technology is still not there," said Tressa Dittmer, manager, network integration services at Scottsdale Insurance Co. in Scottsdale, Ariz.

For the next year, customers will have to limit their vendor selections and buy complete solutions, said Mark Lewis, Compaq Computer Corp.'s vice president, enterprise storage software business. But he advised users to ask their supplier if that solution will translate into the open SAN of the future. "So, if in a year from now you want to switch something, you haven't just bought into a big proprietary solution," he said. Lewis noted that the market is about a year away from allowing users to mix suppliers.

James Rothnie, senior vice president of product management at EMC Corp. agreed that truly interoperable SANs are a couple years off. During a keynote address, he listed the top 10 things the storage market will need in 2003: Perpetual availability; automated and easy-to-use management; cluster and backup/restore application integration; high-speed file sharing; shareable systems and quality of service; heterogeneous access; operations on logical objects; application integration through APIs; open standards employed whenever possible; and common management of multiple locations.

"I think people can get a lot of benefit right now. Things are far enough along that you will not need to throw out what you started with. The best way is to take a step-by-step approach," said Rothnie in a later interview.

Analyst Nick Allen, vice president and research director for the Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn., said users will have to wait at least two years before SANs are truly open, and for a multi-vendor, multi-platform management tool. The standards have to be in place first, and it will be at least a year before that happens, said Allen.

However, vendors at the conference did try to show that they are putting significant effort into creating interoperable solutions. The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) announced the creation of facility for interoperability testing and storage networking technology education, The SNIA Technology Center. Compaq donated the funds for the center, which is scheduled to be operational later this year.

"Compaq's donation was obviously not one hundred percent altruistic," said Allen, pointing out that the Center is located in Colorado Springs, Colo. where Compaq has facilities. However, "Compaq has been big in supporting open standards," added Allen. "They are putting their money where their mouth is." Compaq has already done a lot, particularly through its StorageWorks product, added Allen.

Allen ranked Compaq and EMC as the top two vendors in the SAN space. "EMC is doing a lot to test interoperability with EMC products, but I think they could do more publicly," said Allen. He added that EMC is spending an immense amount of money on testing. Though EMC focuses more on interoperability with it's own products, Allen pointed out, "when they find a problem with one vendor's equipment, they have helped the entire industry," he added.

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