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Analyst firm provides "comparison shopping" overview of SAN architectures

Planning to do some SAN shopping in the near future and don't know where to start or what to look for? Hear what Illuminata Analyst John Webster has to say about some of the SAN solutions currently available. Are you a dot com with high availability needs and not too concerned about cost? EMC might be your pick. Is price an issue? Compaq might be a better choice. Our story brings you these highlights and others from Illuminata's recent report, "SAN Architectures -- 2000."

Illuminata, a Nashua, NH-based analyst firm, has recently released a report entitled, "SAN Architectures -- 2000," which provides a Consumer Reports-style overview of major SAN offerings. Illuminata notes that since SANs by their very nature are complex (requiring users to choose, configure and manage a diverse set of hardware and software), it is important to first have a strong understanding of these complexities before making any major decisions.

Vendors have introduced branded SAN architectures to the marketplace. Seeing as how so many of today's SAN architectures reference products that are years away from reality, Illuminata notes that in some cases, the term "marketectures" might be a better way to describe them.

Illuminata says it has created "SAN Architectures -- 2000" as a timesaving aid for customers, so that they can understand the various SAN architectures now being put forward by storage vendors. For this report, Illuminata chose branded SAN solution sets from two systems vendors (Compaq and Hewlett Packard), and from two pure-play storage vendors (EMC and StorageTek). In a later report, Illuminata promises to perform a more comprehensive comparison of SAN solution offerings to include Sun, IBM and others.

According to the report's author and Illuminata analyst, John Webster, most analysts currently advise potential SAN customers to go with tested, certified solutions from vendors who will stand behind their product sets. "Our perception is that some of these [product sets] are in various stages of being complete," he says. "That's why we put this report together and will continue to monitor progress," he adds.

And which vendor has the "best" SAN formula? Webster says it depends on the application. For example, he explains, if you're a dot com looking for high availability, high scalability with price not an issue, EMC might be the best choice. If price is an issue, notes Webster, and you're willing to do some of the work yourself, Compaq is a good choice. Or, if you really want the SAN to solve a backup and recovery problem, StorageTek would be a good choice, says Webster.

Underlying those delineations, though, Webster says, are the major philosophical differences amongst the vendors and their different "marketectures." Each vendor has assigned a different role to software, services, and where to put the intelligence, virtualization, and other key characteristics.

Webster says, "some major differentiation" seems to be emerging around where the intelligence goes in a SAN. Sun, as well as some of the switch vendors like Gadzoox, seem to put it at the center. Compaq and IBM--and perhaps even EMC--seem to put it at the periphery.

Virtualization of the SAN environment is another differentiator, Webster notes. Virtualization "is Compaq's stated direction as well as [that of ] Storagetek [while] EMC has said nothing about storage virtualization - SAN-based or otherwise," he explains.

While Webster admits the Illuminata report cannot answer every question about SANs, he notes that it is intended to be used as a starting point in evaluating SAN acquisitions. "It's meant to be provocative and suggest directions for further investigation," he says.

To learn more about this report, go to: . For information on Illuminata services, or to purchase the full "SAN Architectures 2000" report, please contact Nancy Baughman, or by phone: (603) 598-0099, x809.

Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, Mass.

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