SAN products to focus on working together

The end of storage Balkanization was proclaimed last month at the Storage Networking World conference in Orlando, Fla.

The buzz centred on interoperability laboratories and how hardware vendors have committed themselves to making storage area network (SAN) products that can exist in different computing environments. High-level executives from EMC Corp., IBM Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. have promised that their machinery will function alongside that of their competitors and with a wide range of servers and operating systems.

“I think the interoperability challenges of the late ’90s will be a thing of the past,” said Greg Reyes, president of Brocade Communications Systems in San Jose, Calif.

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and Compaq announced yesterday that they have broken ground in Colorado Springs, Col. on what will be the largest independent storage network on the planet. The idea is to create a testing facility that will help developers achieve a truly open SAN infrastructure.

“It’s not just about one box or one switch. … You have to make sure your network is extensible across thousands of devices,” Reyes said.

Larry Krantz, senior technologist at EMC and chairman of the SNIA, said customers are forcing vendors into commonality and standards as they begin to shop for products that can meet their exploding storage needs.

“They don’t want to see big vendors fight anymore,” he said. “Customers want stuff that works together. They want to create a network and then upgrade it piece by piece. It has to come.”

Linda Sanford, senior vice-president of IBM’s storage group, said, “The promise of true storage networking is at the data-sharing level across any platform or across any operating system.”

Reyes said hardware vendors are phasing out the traditional connectivity links between storage and servers and have begun to fully support Fibre Channel, a SAN protocol that increases connectivity over the traditional SCSI protocol.

Reyes said hundreds of software applications are being developed to take advantage of a standards-driven underlying infrastructure, which should help make the dense and complicated world of SAN management far more streamlined and simple.

Tivoli Systems Inc. in Austin, Tex., released SAN management software that conforms to Fibre Channel standards set by the American National Standards Institute. Paul Ellis, Tivoli’s director of marketing for its storage business unit, said it is the lack of standards that has slowed SAN adoption in corporate America.

Information technology managers don’t want to buy software or hardware and then have to worry about it not working, Ellis said. “We’re just now getting to the point where we can offer IT managers a real sense of security about this stuff,” he said.

BMC Software Inc. in Houston also released a cross-platform storage managing tool designed to channel network resources to handle heavily accessed information and to determine optimal placement for data.

Reyes said such products will help increase the functionality of existing SANs and create a new boom market as companies learn how to use their data as they gain greater access to it.