SANS: bring on the storage manager

While SANs may be the Holy Grail for many businesses, maybe we should spare a thought for the people whose job it is to build...

While SANs may be the Holy Grail for many businesses, maybe we should spare a thought for the people whose job it is to build them. James Rogers examines the impact of SANs

Once upon a time, IT managers tended to overlook the cost of managing storage systems, sometimes bundling the price tag with overall systems management. Not any more. Recent research from analysts Frost & Sullivan suggests that they are coming round to the idea that more efficient storage maintenance means reduced IT costs.

Moreover, a proper storage strategy is now central to an efficient IT operation. Ron Riffe Tivoli's storage strategy expert explains: 'Fifteen years ago IT managers were faced with out-of-control growth of their storage, and they were predicting that they would reach a situation where humans couldn't control that amount of data.

Now the humans are managing the storage, not the other way round.' It seems that as a technology, Storage Area Networking is poised to change the way that businesses manage and distribute their data; something that could change IT infrastructures in a similar way to the advent of LANs over a decade ago.

Put quite simply; SANs let IT managers and network administrators externalise storage from the server, by attaching it through a separate network. Steve Richardson, vice president of marketing at Overland Data says: 'In addition to the performance and availability advantages of SANs, the architecture also streamlines the administration of storage resources.'

He continues: 'This addresses perhaps the most critical issue facing IT managers; how to control storage management costs.' Indeed, Richardson refers to research by International Data Corporation (IDC), which estimates that a single storage administrator can manage seven and a half times more data on a San than on a decentralised storage system.

Certainly, it would appear that the advent of storage is already changing the way that some IT departments function. Nigel Ghent, UK marketing director at storage giant EMC comments: 'We are starting to see the emergence of CSOs, or Chief Storage Officers.' This job title is already prominent in the US and, according to some industry figures, Europe is following suit. Appointing an expert to look after your storage is one way of dealing with burgeoning amounts of data, although a number of companies are turning to the myriad of storage management software currently on offer.

Storage management software exists to ensure that users get the most out of their SAN. It is no longer just enough to look at storage in technical terms; most organisations are looking at their IT departments from an increasingly business-orientated perspective, something which has helped create a lucrative software market. In this way, Frost and Sullivan states that storage management software market revenues worldwide were $2400bn in 1999, 42.8 per cent up on the previous year.

Of course, such massive growth can bring problems, and IT professionals are now faced with a plethora of different technologies with which to build their SANs. One of the biggest challenges facing IT managers today is to ensure that their storage systems are interoperable. Whilst software provides the answer, SANs still have the potential to complicate, rather than simplify, the task of managing storage. Suresh Panikar, director of product marketing at Raid Controller firm Mylex explains: 'Software is important. You should look for software suites that provide management capability, that will make their use much easier.'

A number of vendors, such as Tivoli and Hitachi Data Systems, have already set up specialist operations to ease this transition. For example, Tivoli has set up Tivoli Ready Programme, a partnering organisation which is primarily focused on systems and systems management. According to Riffe, the creation of the storage division at Tivoli means that the company is now able to include storage and San vendors in its partnership programme. There are currently more than 1,000 IT management experts, service providers and product partners involved in the initiative, with Tivoli, claiming that it is capable of resolving almost any San dilemma that its customers face.

The other side of the coin, however, is that a SAN may not necessarily be the answer to your business needs. Analysts have already highlighted that there is some confusion in the marketplace about SANs, as a number of different vendors are taking different approaches to the technology. It goes without saying that the technology will be an infinitely more viable proposition once some of the standards issues are resolved.

Once standards have been finalised and all the interoperability issues resolved, SANs should take off. Indeed, IDC has already predicted that Fibre Channel based SANs will experience more than 100 per cent compound annual growth over the next three years.

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