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Enabling SAN transport

Connecting storage area networks (SANs) and network-attached storage (NAS) over IP-based and optical networks could be the wave of the future in the world of storage. Players in the technology are emerging with the promise of interconnected SANs over great distances and the creation of true global storage networks. But what will it cost? How does it work? What users will SAN transport over IP benefit?

Dr. Kanwar J.S. Chadha, chief executive officer, and the technical mind behind Entrada Networks, a San Diego, Calif., company specializing in transporting SANs over Local Area Networks (LAN), Metro Area Networks (MAN) and Wide Area Networks (WAN) via IP and light, explained the principles behind the technology, the applications it will enable and what approach Entrada takes toward making it happen.

What is SAN transport? Can you explain the technology behind it?
SAN transport connects storage area networks, as well as NAS, over IP-based and optical networks to provide companies and individuals access to information regardless of location. SAN transport technology unlocks a vast wealth of information wherever it may reside and ensures its integrity, security and availability. Once connected, the isolated SAN islands can act as one global storage network.

This market is in its infancy. Today, companies seeking to create a truly global storage environment have to assimilate four disparate technologies: SAN and NAS, IP routing and transport, optical routing and transport, and the management of these processes. This is a daunting and very expensive challenge for even the most advanced IT department. SAN transport simplifies this by collapsing these four technology architectures into a single, easy-to- deploy, cost-effective device.

Dedicated SAN over IP switches can lay the groundwork for a truly global storage network. These devices encapsulate or "wrap" Fibre Channel frames into IP packets to deliver block-level SAN data over WANs and MANs. As a result, disparate SAN fabrics can be connected over long distances, making far away SANs appear "local" to remote users -- all with lower latency and lower cost of ownership than server-based approaches.

As long distance SAN over IP becomes a reality, enterprises will need the flexibility to transport storage data over the best-fit WAN service, whether it is ATM, Gigabit Ethernet or OC-X. The choice of WAN transport service is dependent on the company's budget and the bandwidth needs of the applications it uses. Is there currently a limit to the distance over which storage area networks (SANs) can be linked? If so, what is it? When will those limits be overcome and how?
Fibre Channel SANs have gone a long way toward ensuring data availability for local users but they have severe distance limitations, generally about 10km. Today the only way around this is to throw lots of money and lots of highly trained people at the problem. For example, via dedicated transparent or passive range extenders or DWDM- based WAN/MAN links. But because this approach is too costly and cumbersome, it will never become a widely used application. For most enterprises the solution is leveraging the existing and ever-expanding IP-based and big-bandwidth optical public network infrastructures. SAN transport will take off when technology effortlessly maps any and all SAN-based information to the public network infrastructure and transports it across any distance in conformance with strict service guarantees. What key applications will SAN transport enable? How will it ultimately benefit the end user?
We're all familiar with Sun's argument that the network is the computer. Well, we like to say the information is the enterprise. Companies need access to all their data all the time, and can't afford the risk of any information downtime. With that in mind, mirroring is likely to be the most critical application. Increasingly a must for disaster recovery and e-commerce, disk mirroring duplicates data in real time.

SAN transport enables remote mirroring over long distances, ensuring data security and data access enterprise-wide. It protects vital data from local failures and larger-scale disasters and facilitates data center consolidations. Everyone's excited about video-on-demand. But less attention has been given to the task of storing and transporting terabytes of video. These files are enormous. Global storage networks will store and manage massive video files for low- latency transport across optical backbones.

The end user will benefit from dramatically enhanced information availability. Frankly, end users are too busy to care how the information is received. They only care that they get it securely, accurately, painlessly and fast. With SAN transport technology, information stored hundreds of miles away offers the same availability as information stored in the company's local SAN.

In the near future, we expect it will also have individual applications. One example would be empowering people to tap into personal information like critical health records or financial portfolios from anywhere via a central storage source. What approach does Entrada take?
Our vision is global storage. Our mission is SAN transport. Our strategy is to develop products that transport all SAN protocols across all WAN/MAN links and to sell them to storage OEMs and integrators.

We are not going to fight the standards' wars or try to force a proprietary standard on the market. We believe a multi-service, protocol neutral approach is in the industry's best interest. The only way SAN transport will penetrate the market significantly is by placing the ability to create global SANs in the hands of the companies that build SANs in the first place � storage integrators and OEMs. They need a product that is plug-and- play and bridges all SAN and WAN architectures. And it must be at a price point that fosters mass adoption.

We view this challenge from the wide area network perspective looking in. This is a vast departure from companies looking to solve the problem from the SAN looking out, who become quickly daunted by the vast complexities of wide area networking. Our management and technology team possesses all the necessary expertise, spanning Ethernet, optical networking, and SAN.

Our new Silverline SAN over IP switch is the true embodiment of our open platform philosophy because Silverline allows integrators and OEMs to connect any SAN/NAS configuration via the widest possible range of wide and metro area network connections at a fraction of the price of many leading alternative approaches. We are convinced this is the winning formula. What issues or obstacles does SAN over IP face in the months ahead? Are there still bugs to be worked out?
Interoperability, of course, is a big one. As with any new technology, the vendors and the buyers are working feverishly to ensure that the products can communicate effectively to accomplish their tasks. Many, many different companies and industry organizations are busy installing interoperability testing facilities to achieve a common goal � IT compatibility. Who is Entrada's direct competition and how does their approach differ from that of your company?

Our competition is anyone seeking to enable enterprise-wide access to information. Lots of companies are sprouting up in this area, and that is positive. It validates the demand for what we're trying to do.

There are many attempts to solve the SAN transport challenge. Some, such as Nishan are touting proprietary approaches to SAN over IP transport. Others are pushing SAN over DWDM, such as Adva. Then, there are the fabric switch & director companies. None offer one simple and affordable box integrating all the technologies required to transport any SAN over any network. We do. That is how Entrada will stand apart and catalyze the SAN transport market. What types of companies and what industries would benefit from utilizing SAN transport? Why?
Ultimately, any company that needs 24x7 access to information will need to deploy SAN transport technology. Geographically dispersed companies, multi-nationals for example, simply will not be able to compete if they don't have enterprise-wide access to all their data, all the time. Today's companies have multiple servers running multiple applications around the clock and around the globe. They need a storage environment that can keep up.

Among the first adopters will be financial services firms, many of which are required by federal law to duplicate all transaction data around the clock. Most of them are headquartered in big cities where labor and space are very expensive and SAN transport will save them a lot of money and hassle by allowing them to locate their storage resources in more economical locations or simply to outsource it.

Another will be the emerging storage service providers (SSPs) who need our technology to enable their business to scale and meet service level agreements. In an outsourced IT environment, storage on demand will require SAN transport products that are highly flexible, scalable, and able to bridge the nuances of SANs and public network topologies.

Another rapidly emerging customer segment is the entertainment industry with its skyrocketing storage requirements driven by rich content media. What are the capabilities of the technology, i.e. transfer rates, etc.?
Because Silverline uses our proprietary architecture that processes packets extremely fast it enables very low latency device transfer rates. So the transfer rate will mainly depend on the end user's line speed. For example, Gigabit Ethernet runs at 1Gbps, OC-3 offers 155Mbps and OC-48 pipes zips along at 2.5Gbps. Silverline's modular configuration allows the customer to choose the WAN/MAN connection that meets their budget and the needs of their applications. Some will be simple T-3 ports; before long we will be offering OC- 192. Is SAN over IP a cost efficient storage model? How does it compare with other solutions?
It is a very competitive model. First and foremost, it provides enterprise-wide access to data. Today, that may still be a luxury. Soon it will be a necessity.

Transporting SAN over IP leverages existing IP-based network infrastructures. Accordingly, it is faster and easier to implement than other solutions. The modularity and openness eliminates technology obsolescence and reduces bandwidth costs. It also allows more efficient and less costly network support and management. We strongly believe a protocol-neutral, multi-service approach offers dramatic cost/performance benefits compared to very high-end products or complex, multi-box configurations. What do you see for the future of SAN over IP and storage technology in general?

Storage will increasingly be the focus of IT managers. Did you see the recent report from the University of California projecting that more data will be created in the next three years than in all of previous human history? Thankfully, storage technology is advancing rapidly. Ever more information can now be packed on ever-smaller media, which is very important in physically managing the storage explosion. But once you've stored it, what's next? You have to make it available to the people who need it wherever they are and whenever they need it. Storage itself is only half the battle. Simply buying more disks will not solve a company's information needs.

It's like a farmer buying more silos to house his huge grain harvest but not having any trucks to get it to the people who need to bake bread. To complete the analogy, SAN transport brings the grain to the market on time without spilling any along the way.

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