E-Guide

Storage networking: Technology advancements decrease complexity and improve performance

There was a time when storage networking was little more than an afterthought. You started at the array and worked back toward the servers; if you needed high performance, you got a Fibre Channel (FC)

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array or, if you were serving files, network-attached storage (NAS) was the choice. So the type of storage dictated the type of network you'd use to string it all together. And if that connective tissue you put in place didn't quite do the job, you got more of it or speedier parts.

Times have changed—in fact, they're on the verge of being turned inside out. The "inside" is the network, and pretty soon it's likely that it will be the starting point when designing shared storage systems. This might seem like a revolutionary change, but it's really more a case of evolution. Today, a good-sized shop may have several FC fabrics, a few IP networks dedicated to NAS filers and, of course, a LAN to link hosts and clients to all that storage. It's a lot to manage, and managing it often crosses the boundaries of two or more IT disciplines.

Wouldn't a single network make more sense? It not only makes more sense, it's here now. Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) makes it possible to link these previously disparate networks, promising simpler administration, less complexity and lower costs. Any one of those would be irresistible to most IT shops.

But this doesn't suggest that you'll necessarily want to link all of your networks. In some cases the costs may outweigh the conveniences, or it simply may not be necessary. Still, it's prudent to take a fresh look at your installed networks, with so many protocol upgrades and new products available now or coming soon.

 --Rich Castagna, Editorial Director of the Storage Media Group

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THE STORAGE NETWORKING ESSENTIAL GUIDE

  • SAN of the future: Storage magazine recently asked storage vendors, industry analysts and technologists serving on storage industry associations about where they see the storage-area network (SAN) heading. There may not be sweeping architectural changes in five years, but there will be changes in the basic building blocks of the SAN infrastructure: networks and protocols; switches; storage arrays, disks and controllers; and SAN management.
  • Storage networking outlook: Companies are consolidating dispersed data centers into centralized ones to reduce footprints and costs, and to improve performance. One of the most visible technologies enabling this change is server virtualization. To support all of the features and functionality of server virtualization, a networked storage environment is required, the most common one being Fibre Channel. However, it's not used exclusively and many firms will deploy multiple storage networks based on performance needs, internal skills and budgets.
  • Timetable for 10 GigE: It's barely even here yet, but 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) is going to have a hard time living up to its hype. Hailed as a "game changing" technology by some, it carries the burden of being a cure-all for storage (and network) managers' problems. But when you look beyond the hyperbole surrounding 10 GbE, you'll see the technology is, in many ways, still just emerging.
  • FC switch advice: Once a company decides to go with a Fibre Channel storage-area network (FC SAN), the next thing to do is settle on a switch vendor because it's not a good idea to mix and match brands. Fibre Channel switches need to communicate and cooperate with each other to manage the overall fabric. The best way to ensure that that happens reliably is to select a switch from one of the top three switch vendors: Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and QLogic Corp.
  • iSCSI switch choice: Storage magazine's Spring 2009 purchasing intentions survey indicated that approximately 44% of respondents who work with value-added resellers (VARs) either have deployed or will deploy iSCSI storage in 2009. This means solution providers need to identify and put in place best practices to optimize their customers' Ethernet networks to support these iSCSI SANs.

This was first published in March 2010

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