Sandra Gittlen: Don’t try to go it alone with storage networking

On the Road

There’s a scene in the movie Pretty Woman in which Julia Roberts goes into an expensive dress shop with a wad of cash that she is supposed to use to buy some upscale clothing. She has the money to spend but has no idea what would be appropriate to buy. Having just wrapped up Network World (U.S.)‘s Storage Town Meeting tour, I get the sense that many companies are facing a similar situation with storage.

During the past few weeks, fellow moderator Steve Duplessie and I have travelled to eight cities across the U.S. to talk about the latest developments in storage networking and have seen the urgency of this topic in the aftermath of Sept. 11. From feedback forms and discussions with your peers, I’ve learned that education, not money, is the key issue. Even the sponsors of our tour – Blue Arc, Cisco Systems Inc., Datacore Software Corp., Veritas Software Corp. and JNI – acknowledge that buying and installing storage equipment can be incredibly confusing.

Do you go with a pure, storage area network or network attached storage? Their answer: You’ll probably need a combination of both. Do you use virtualization so your storage network can be a mix of different vendors’ equipment? Many of the sponsors on our panel say virtualization software is a good bet so that you don’t have to start over in buying and building out your networks. How much data do you need to store before you need a storage network? Our panelists say you can start creating a solid storage infrastructure by networking as few as two servers.

But the most pressing question on everyone’s mind seems to be: do I have to go it alone? The resounding answer from our panelists is “no.” In fact, they all agreed that hiring an integrator is the best bet to make sure your storage equipment dollars are well spent.

I talked to a network manager for a Midwestern U.S. bank who said he got approval from his company to spend millions of dollars to create a storage network. He went out and bought top-of-the-line equipment and high-end software. But when it came time to install everything, he realized he had no idea what servers should be attached to the network or how to go about setting policy for the software. He sheepishly returned to his corporate purseholders to ask for more money to bring an integrator on-site. His advice to his peers: don’t go it alone.

Gittlen is events editor for Network World (U.S.)’s Seminars and Events Group. She can be reached at