SAN leaders look to the future

Most leading storage network vendors roundly dismiss suggestions that IP-based storage systems will replace fiber channel technology in enterprise datacenters anytime soon, but they are increasingly willing to acknowledge that IP does have a longer-term role in enterprise storage systems.

At a meeting in New York organized by the Storage Networking Industry Association to unveil new initiatives that improve interoperability between storage area networking products, industry leaders were clearly stung by suggestions that they had taken too long to respond to customer complaints about interoperability issues ? and that this had opened the door for rival storage infrastructure technologies, including SOIP (storage over IP).

Instead, industry leaders such as Brocade, Compaq, EMC, IBM, Hitachi and McData pointed out that the fiber channel-based SAN industry is still relatively young. "SANs are not really in their infancy, they are really adolescents," said Mark Sorenson, vice president of Compaq's enterprise storage software business. Others, including Donald Swatik, vice president of global alliances for EMC, insisted that, in relative terms, SANs had already achieved a greater level of maturity than other technologies at the same stage in their evolution.

Nevertheless, executives acknowledged that IP is likely to play a role in future enterprise storage systems, although they said it was likely to be a long time before IP-based systems delivered the features and security demanded by enterprise datacenter operators. "It is a question of 'when,' rather than 'whether'," said Swatik, who also emphasized that EMC is committed to the use of IP-based storage where appropriate. "We are very pro IP, but we are pragmatic," he said.

EMC has already installed a transatlantic mirrored storage facility using IP for one of its customers and is fitting its high-end Symmetrix arrays with IP, which will enable them to support both SANs and network-attached storage models. However, like other fiber channel storage vendors, EMC cautions on the limitations of current IP-based NAS and points out that for some applications, fiber channel remains more efficient than IP.

One factor that could shift the balance would be the creation of a block-level protocol for use over both FC and IP networks. The ability to run file and block-level commands over IP, something analysts believe EMC is working on, would enable IP-based storage infrastructures to more nearly replicate the performance of fiber channel systems.

But even then, there is considerable debate over how pervasive SOIP will become in the long term. For the moment at least, fiber channel vendors remain confident that fiber channel will remain the storage technology of choice for enterprise users ? provided they can address outstanding customer issues, including true interoperability.


the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media - to evaluate the service click here.

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