SANs: At what cost Utopia?

The pros and cons of implementing a storage area network (SAN) have been tossed back and forth so many times it's enough to make any IT professional dizzy. While some say a SAN can cure all storage ills, others say they're a pain to implement and interoperability issues are inhibiting. Regardless of your position, almost everyone agrees, the cost of implementing a SAN continues to be a major hurdle for many businesses. Yet, with the recent budget flip-flop on IT spending, it has become clear that companies are coming to realize that data represents the crown jewels of the enterprise and they will protect their data�no matter the cost. The Enterprise Storage Group, a storage-specific analyst firm in Milford, Mass., recently conducted a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) study based on storage trends and the opportunity costs associated with implementing a SAN. SearchStorage talked with Steve Duplessie, president and founder of the Enterprise Storage Group about the study and why implementing a SAN is in everyone's future�it's just matter of time.

What is causing the rise in numbers of those planning to implement SANs in their shops?
Storage problems hit every business in the face every morning. The opportunity cost associated with making a mistake and suffering an outage or downtime outweighs the hardware costs associated with a SAN. The average cost of an outage is $250,000 to $300,000. Outages are predominantly caused by power or mechanical problems, and they also include planned down time. Things break. We know it's going to break, and at the worst possible time. It's about how fast we can get it back. The fundamental thing we can do is make sure it's bulletproof, that's achievable with a SAN. Availability, efficiency, scaleable performance is all big factors. We also need to figure out how to get more done with less people. You can manage 3.7 times the storage with a SAN that you can with direct-attached storage. What were the initial findings of your study?
If you believe the most conservative numbers, storage needs will double year over year. I believe those numbers are way low. Storage spending is going to account for 70% of IT dollars this year alone. We interviewed 311 CIO-level folks and found that the average amount of enterprise level data is 1.451 Terabytes. Most of the shops that we surveyed were running open systems, Unix, Windows NT, environments, but most shops were predominantly Solaris environments. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed have SANs installed and running, 98% of those SANs are homogeneous or proprietary in nature, and 97% of those without SANs were considering implementing a SAN within the next year. Why hasn't the heterogeneous SAN been perfected yet?
We were originally sold a vision of Utopia where everything worked with everything else. It doesn't. Right now no one has the answer for SAN. There are no killers out there. Vixel, Connex, and Prisa came out with or are about to come out with products that look promising. We want to see virtualization in the intermediary, SAN appliances will make that happen. DataCore is a SAN appliance company, and there's StorageApps, Veritas, and Sun. We're not that far away from Utopia. Any parting advice on networking storage and its future?
Do it. Get outside help, don't go it alone, and don't use a server vendor unless you only have one server type in your shop. Before, whatever vendor you bought your server from is the storage you got, EMC changed all that. The operating system and the server have become a commodity. People right now are segregating their buying decisions. You have to network storage or you're doomed, it's just a matter of time. What advice do you have for those considering a SAN?
In our survey we asked the participants that had already gone through a SAN implementation: What would you do differently next time? The overwhelming response was, 'next time, I'd get help.' This is hard stuff to do. It's both an art and a science and there's not a whole lot of talent out there. I like systems integrators like CNT, Articulent and there are other regional players with runtime experience. Their concentration is on storage. They have to make this stuff work, that's what they do for a living. There are very few storage-specific integrators out there. You've got to do some homework. You don't want to be the first SAN implementation someone has ever done, especially if it's your first SAN.

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