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The value of easy-to-use SAN storage

Storage-area network (SAN) storage is in a period of major change—it's getting much easier. In tight economic times, it makes sense for storage pros to consider these easy-to-use options despite some of their drawbacks.

Storage-area network (SAN) storage is in a period of major change -- it's getting much easier. For years, SAN storage has required extensive arcane knowledge about logical unit numbers (LUNs), LUN masking, volume sizing, volume concatenation, scripting, RAID set calculation, sparing calculations, capacity planning, scheduled downtime for maintenance, creation of a chain of ownership from failed hard disk drive removal from system to actual destruction, and so on.

IT managers have complained for several years that college graduates lack the knowledge and skills required to become storage administrators. Maybe it's a result of our high-tech, gadget-oriented culture that confuses people who are masters at using technology with those who are well-versed in implementing, managing, fixing and servicing that technology.

This means IT management is forced to train graduates at a significant cost to the company. But as these individuals receive more training, the more valuable their skill set becomes and the more likely it is that someone will hire them away for more money (but with significantly less investment).

Several SAN storage vendors have been quietly starting a revolt against this very painful IT problem by creating SAN storage that's intuitive to the user. These products have storage expertise built into the system and can be implemented, set up and operational in less than 30 minutes (and, in some cases, less than 10 minutes) without any professional services. Among these products are Compellent Technologies Inc.'s Storage Center, Dell Inc.'s EqualLogic PS Series, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s NSM Series (through its acquisition of LeftHand Networks Inc.), Reldata Inc.'s 9240i Unified Storage System with its Adaptive Storage Wizard and Xiotech Corp.'s Emprise Series with Icon manager.

And contrary to conventional wisdom, these intuitive SAN storage systems are more than just storage for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), they're often for the enterprise class as well.

But many enterprise IT storage pros insist that this type of storage is aimed at SMBs and is little more than a toy. They believe that if SAN storage is difficult to implement, operate and manage, it's sophisticated. But it turns out that just the opposite is true. The more sophisticated the SAN storage system, the easier it is to administer. In polls conducted by Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group and Beaverton, Ore.-based Dragon Slayer Consulting, storage administrators managed far more storage and spent less time managing it with this type of simple-to-use SAN storage vs. traditional SAN storage.

So what's the catch? To make such strides, compromises have to be made. Some vendors allow more sophisticated administrators the ability to change the default assumptions, while others don't. Other systems sacrifice performance to make scaling easier. In addition, these types of systems will never be as inexpensive as standard SAN storage systems.

It comes down to a basic question every IT organization must answer for itself: "Is it better to invest in sophisticated, easy-to-use SAN storage or well-trained SAN storage administrators and professional services?" The decision relies on long-term vision and short-term budget projections, as well as the availability of qualified, affordable people. These days, easy-to-use SAN systems are more qualified and affordable than ever.

About the author: Marc Staimer is the founder of Dragon Slayer Consulting, an 11-year-old marketing analyst and consulting firm. He is a regular contributor to TechTarget venues.


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