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SAN: Is it hot or is it hype?

SAN: Is it hot or is it hype?

LAS VEGAS -- For all the talk about Storage Area Networks (SANs), it's easy to believe that SANs is the hottest thing since the dawn of the Internet.

But to users attending the Veritas Software Corp.,Vision 2000 user conference here this week, the reality of SAN just isn't a happening thingnot yet anyway. And, for many administrators, if the thought of simply implementing a SAN is a little scary, having an installed SAN that doesn't function is a recurring nightmare.

The problem? Lack of interoperability, or the inability of a system to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer, say users.

But, major vendors such as EMC Corp., McData Corp., QLogic Corp., Network Appliance, Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., and Hitachi Data Systems, pontificated on the virtues of SANs during a SAN industry panel on Tuesday.

The panel was sponsored by the Mountain View, Calif.-based Vertias.

While many vendors admitted that interoperability is a major obstacle, they also said solving interoperability issues is a major objective.

Still, many users said that they're frustrated SAN hype making it seem as if it were as easy as "plug-and-play."

"Much of this is lip service," said Reshma Block, a product engineer with Intel Corp. "There are still so many issues with support. The whole interoperability thing is a major issue."

There's no question that SAN technology, in theory, has a bright future. In fact, there are a number of companies currently using SAN technology and very successfully. According to Michael Marchi, senior director, Internet and Enterprise Marketing, Network Appliance, Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., as much as 40% of his company's business is SAN-related.

The dollars just continue flowing into SANs. The value of disk drives attached to SANs, for example, will grow from $1.3 billion last year to $4 billion this year and $24.6 billion by 2003. The cost of a single SAN implementation has a price tag of about $70,000.

According to Dataquest, SANs represent 21% of the external storage market, or storage capacity outside of disk drives that are built into servers. That share will grow to 70% by 2003.

In a recent study of Network World readers, conducted by Enterprise Management Associates, a growing number of businesses, especially those with large data storage requirements, are choosing to move to SANs.

According to the survey, of the 158 Network World readers, 58 had no plans to deploy SANs, but the other 100 had deployed a SAN or had SAN plans. Of the 58 with no intention of implementing a SAN, the majority said their storage needs were too small to require one.

Of the 100 readers who were implementing SANs, 29% already had a SAN deployed, 12% were in the midst of a SAN rollout, 41% said they expected to put in a SAN within one year, and 18% said they were looking at a SAN within two years.

Topping the list of SAN benefits were easy manageability of storage resources, faster data access and higher data availability. More than three-quarters of the survey respondents said they preferred to buy all their SAN components from a single vendor.

Herein lies the problem, said users. "If it's going to work, it's got to be with one vendor," said Block. "This idea that all these different systems can work together just isn't reality."

"The only way it's going to work is to get it all the same," said Larry Monson, a business analyst with Intel Corp.

Monson contends that the reason vendors are talking about it is that it sounds so good. But the fact is, there's no competitive advantage to doing it. "It's like asking Ford to make a car that can use a Chrysler steering wheel. Why would they?"

During a more general storage industry panel on Monday, which included representatives from Compaq, EMC and IBM, the subject of compatibility and interoperability was raised. Veritas Executive Vice President of Worldwide Strategic Operations Peter Levine challenged the group of major vendors to commit to a standard. Despite rousing applause from the audience, no one took Levine on.

Daren Johnson, senior system administrator for Raytheon Co., said his group implemented a multi-vendor SAN system recently only to discover that it did not meet his company's expectations. "The vendors didn't seem to get the fact that there are some server operability issues," he said.

According to Johnson, the SAN system was put on hold and the shop went back to its less sophisticated but more reliable direct attached storage model. "We'll probably come back to it in about a year. For now, we'll muddle through with what we're using."

Lisa Beldean, senior SAN engineer, IT IS Services, an IT consulting group in South Norwalk, Ct. and a SAN panelist, said that for most users, the obstacle to SAN is trust. "Users hear so many things, they're not sure what is real and what's not. They want to know if their investment will last."

McData's vice president of solutions and systems integration services, Jeff Vogel, said that despite the interoperability issues, vendors are moving in the right direction. "The good news is that a lot of the testing shows true progress," he said. "I'm confident that there's a level of interoperability now."

However, Beldean added that interoperability is what gives users choices. When multi-vendors are involved, "the biggest issue ends up being support."

Darryl Bergstrom, senior Unix consultant, Sprint, said that when his shop decided to "go SAN," the vendors they were currently using balked. "The reality was, there was just no support for other vendors' products. If one failed, we couldn't bring it up on another system," he said. "The buzzword in a situation like this is 'US,' that means unsupported. That's not good."

"What I want," said Monson, "is 'ubitquous SANs'grab a piece and it will work. Will we ever reach SAN Nirvana?"

For more information: SAN Survey SAN Interoperability on Interoperability

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