3Com, StorageTek to team on SANs

3Com Corp. and Storage Technology (StorageTek) announced their intention to ship turn-key storage-area network (SAN) gear, which is good news for enterprises looking for truly interoperable SAN equipment, according to an industry observer.

But the companies’ commitment to adopt open standards in their products may not help much unless the SAN industry can agree on one set of standards.

3Com is set to release storage-area NICs, hubs and switches in the near future, while StorageTek already supplies a variety of SAN components.

SANs allow enterprises to connect storage devices to any servers via a high-speed infrastructure. Traditional storage-server connections do not allow servers to share storage devices.

Joan Wrabetz, vice-president and general manager of the SAN operations business for StorageTek, said the 3Com partnership was necessary because StorageTek customers are going through some challenges in adopting SANs.

“In our early experiences with customers, we’ve found the market in its current state of maturity does not allow for complete interoperability among products and that developing good, solid, working enterprise solutions is not as easy as we would like it to be for our customers.”

Randy Meals, vice-president and general manager of 3Com’s storage networks division, said the companies will work together to develop SAN solutions.

“Rather than taking a components approach to delivering technology, the two companies will deliver solutions together.”

StorageTek is not 3Com’s only SAN partner. The company also has agreements with Data General’s CLARiiON division and MTI Technology Corp.

Aaron Schatz, an analyst with International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., liked the fact that the partners made a commitment to open standards.

“The good thing about that is open standards help solve interoperability questions and right now interoperability is perhaps the largest issue with SAN deployment.”

For instance, Schatz explained, certain hubs will work only with certain operating systems.

“It’s really a mess,” he said.

One problem Schatz sees with the commitment to open standards is that every vendor seems to be trying to develop some sort of open system approach.

“A lot of the big suppliers of storage have their own open systems arrangements that they’re trying to get everyone else to join like Sun’s StoreX, Compaq’s Enterprise Network Storage Architecture and EMC’s Fibre Alliance,” he said. “But it isn’t really an open standard until a few of the big seven are on the same page.”

Although 3Com isn’t shipping SAN products yet, it could be releasing gear as soon as this month, Schatz said. Other vendors are already shipping SAN interconnect products, but none of them have the clout or size of 3Com.

“The smaller companies like Ancor, Brocade and Vixel have products, but don’t have their names on any ballparks,” he said, referring to 3Com Park in San Francisco.

In addition to delivering joint SAN designs, 3Com and StorageTek plan to explore the development of new SAN products together.