LAS VEGAS -- Storage networking has evolved substantially over the past few years, and one speaker at Comdex Fall 2002 said that a technological evolution could deal a knockout punch to the struggling tape storage industry in 2003.
S.W. Worth, interoperability and education liaison for the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) industry group and marketing manager for Austin, Texas-based storage hardware maker Crossroads Systems Inc., told attendees that storage and networking technologists alike are gradually implementing storage networks in place of tape drives because networks allow data to be managed with ease -- without time and space restrictions.
"People who start to work with the technology haven't gone back to tape, and people who haven't have been afraid of the costs of storage networks, but that's where IP storage can help," Worth said.
Internet Protocol-based storage is the next-generation standard that is used in network-attached storage (NAS) systems, and it is what Worth said will soon lead to more storage area network (SAN) implementations in 2003. SAN evolution has largely been held back because the Fibre Channel framework that they have relied upon is seen as expensive, complicated and not interoperable.
To date, storage networking has also been hindered by slow standards development, but Worth said that that will change in 2003 as well. He said that vendors are set to release a new generation of standards-based IP storage products that are easier to work with and which will utilize advances in standards such as iSCSI (Internet SCSI), iFCP (Internet Fibre Channel Protocol) and FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP).
Worth said that SANs in particular will get a boost next year when those new standards begin to replace Fibre Channel altogether. Despite studies that have shown that SANs can offer a lower total cost of ownership than tape drives for backup and recovery, enterprises' reluctance to commit to Fibre Channel has been the sticking point.
Worth also said that storage networking will be advanced by better TOE (TCP/IP offload engine) chips, which offload TCP/IP processing from the host microprocessor and operating system and which will demand less processor power, as well as by numerous low-end disk arrays that offer acceptable performance at a much lower cost.
The tape storage industry has suffered from two consecutive years of declining sales because of changing tape technologies and the growing popularity of storage networking. Analysts have predicted that the market will recover slowly as tape and storage networking learn to coexist.
Though Worth said that the future of storage networking looks promising, he also said it still faces its share of obstacles. Some believe that with storage networking technology changing regularly, it makes more sense to store data on tape because it will be easier to retrieve in the future.
Storage networks also increase the temptation to intentionally delete legacy data because, unlike tape, it is available on demand. But Worth said that's a temptation that storage managers need to resist. Because deleting data without authorization could be seen as the equivalent of shredding vital documents, Worth said that companies with storage networks need to develop and adhere to a data maintenance policy that is crafted with the help of legal experts.
Customers have also had concerns about interoperability among vendors, but Worth said that interoperability is becoming less of an issue.
"For instance, if a product comes from HP, the components may be supplied by five different companies, but it's likely that the product will be interoperable because each of the supplying vendors has probably spent a half million dollars per component qualifying the parts," Worth said.
Still, Worth said that a company should not implement a storage network unless it has assessed the impact on its other systems and is prepared to pilot it in a separated network.
"What's the performance going to be? If you start doing block backups over your IP network, you could bring it to its knees," he said. "Don't just make the assumption that because it's IP-based you can just plug it in and it's going to work well."
Attendee John Evans, a Virginia-based computer specialist with NASA, said the agency is considering storage networking because it wants to make its legacy data available and usable. He said that he is open to using any type of technology and isn't yet leaning toward one standard or another.
Dave Mahaffey, an attendee and systems administrator with the city of Santa Clara, Calif., said he is considering a SAN implementation because of data capacity problems. "With backups, our data is growing and we need to come up with a new plan," he said.
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