Moving beyond the SAN

Are you satisfied with the way you manage storage at your company? If you are, good for you, but according to a survey just released by the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association), your company is a lucky minority.

It's worth reading all the results of that interesting study, but I'll mention just one of its rather shocking data points: Less than 40 percent of the respondents found that adopting storage management technologies was cost justified and showed an acceptable ROI (see question 22 in the survey).

Other results point to similar concerns, which will certainly give SNIA yet another leverage point to further its SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative Specification). In time, that effort should lessen the storage management pain a bit, but I don't think that SMI-S-compliant products alone can make satisfied storage management customers out of that disappointed 60 percent.

To really make a difference, we should consider moving away from the traditional SAN paradigm and begin creating storage solutions with embedded, management-friendly features, rather than trying to build them on as an afterthought.

A good example of what I am talking about comes (not surprisingly) from Compellent, which recently began offering Data Progression features with its storage arrays. Data Progression is an optional application that automatically moves aging blocks of storage to a different tier, eliminating the need for a storage admin dedicated solely to that task and making for a more efficient use of storage. To learn more about Data Progression, check out this Storage Network blog post.

Speaking of automatically moving blocks of storage, keep an eye on another vendor, YottaYotta. Early in November, YottaYotta released the GSX 3000, a new and lighter version of its NetStorage Control Node. Imagine a versatile 1U box that can simultaneously connect to Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, InfiniBand, and FC (Fibre Channel) networks to provide seamless data sharing across multiple locations -- that's the GSX 3000.

For example, at your main office you could have a GSX 3000 connecting a SAN via FC ports and servers' clusters attached via InfiniBand. A second GSX 3000 at the opposite end of the WAN cloud (say, at a remote office) could connect a smaller SAN and local servers. Repeat a similar configuration at each branch and you have a system that, according to YottaYotta, will provide fast and simultaneous data access from any server regardless of its geographic location.

If you're thinking that this sounds like a WANFS (WAN file system) solution like Tacit Networks' I-shared -- it isn't quite the same thing.

"We are to WANFS what a SAN is to a NAS," explains YottaYotta CTO Wayne Karpoff. In fact, YottaYotta solutions make it possible to share SAN blocks, not just files. Therefore, installing control nodes around your WAN will give you fast and location-transparent data sharing, but it also makes other interesting features possible, such as mirroring across multiple locations and automatically redirecting servers' I/Os to the closest instance of your data.

As a result, if a storage device goes south, the system will reroute servers' I/Os to the nearest mirror with negligible disruption (if any). When the error condition is removed, YottaYotta will automatically rebuild a consistent data image and revert servers' access to the original location. "We don't do only fail-over, but we also do fail-back," Karpoff specifies.

Indeed, the two solutions I mention here belong to very distant provinces of the storage realm, but they have at least one thing in common: the ability to lessen your management burden with features that go beyond the traditional SAN boundaries.

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Mario Apicella

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