IT professionals caught in SANstorm

When it comes to storage, Steve Duplessie believes companies have little choice.

“Networking storage is not an option, it should be your first priority for corporate IT,” said Duplessie, founder of the Milford, Mass., storage industry analyst firm Enterprise Storage Group in a keynote address at the recent SANstorm conference in Toronto. “It will enable flexibility and allow you to manage more assets with less people. Keep it simple and get help up front.”

Hosted by Kanata, Ont.-based Kanatek Technologies Inc., a global systems integration company specializing in SANs, the SANstorm conference presented the technology’s problems alongside its benefits, and encouraged IT professionals to present their own concerns.

“This never would have happened at a vendor presentation, because people don’t open up that much,” Kanatek’s SAN-enabled solutions global manager, Barry Byspalko, said in Toronto. “The conference really opened up the dialogue about SAN.”

Ottawa’s David Tipple, a project leader for Statistics Canada and an attendee of the conference, “came with a burning question and left with a good answer.” While all of his concerns about SAN technology were not alleviated, Tipple felt that the conference dispensed a lot of critical information.

“I am fighting a lot of different fires on a lot of different fronts,” Tipple said of the increasing demands for disk storage in an environment involving many different servers. “The fire is winning and I am losing the battle. SAN seems like a possible solution, but I have hesitations about the lack of standards in terms of protocol and configuration.”

In his discussion on SAN technology, Duplessie addressed Tipple’s uncertainties about interoperability and the usage of unproven technologies. Calling SAN management “as much an art as a science,” Duplessie provided three key pieces of advice for his audience: “Don’t do it yourself, capital cost is irrelevant, and avoid vendor and technology lock-in.”

Calling SAN architecture a “recession-proof business,” Duplessie demonstrated the system’s business flexibility by pointing out that no business will ever choose to store less data. “Capital cost is inconsequential,” he said.

Because there are so many issues surrounding SANs, there is a need to educate potential users and dispel any myths about this fairly new technology. Storage area networks are designed to solve network congestion and provide enterprise users with secure, reliable network performance and efficient backup and recovery times, however the technology is expensive and not always interoperable.

“One of the biggest concerns about SAN is its management,” Byspalko explained. “People are worried that if they put too much out there it will be difficult to manage.”

According to Duplessie, this concern is valid but the end result is worth the effort. “SAN is complicated, it’s hard. But it works.”

“Another myth is that [users] have to throw away everything they’re already using and start from scratch. That’s simply not true,” Byspalko continued. “The reality is that they use different components from different technologies that they’ve got, integrate it into the SAN and therefore they get some investment protection.”

According to Duplessie, Byspalko and the other speakers at the SANstorm event, the business of storage in this capacity has just got off the ground, but the IT world is in for a storage explosion. The Butler Group estimates that within the next year and a half, data storage technology will account for two thirds of an organization’s IT budget, and that by 2004, the worldwide network storage market will reach more than US$10 billion.