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6/24/2004
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SmartAdvice: Nonprofits Should Focus On Costs and Services In Choosing An ERP System

Nonprofits should evaluate an ERP-style system following a proven process, The Advisory Council says. Also, make sure you understand a storage system's complexity and what dedicated resources it needs before making a choice; and tips on changing your IT group's culture so it's proactive.

Question B: What criteria should we consider in a storage area network (SAN) system evaluation?

Our advice: Storage area networks provide a great benefit in consolidating storage, and in offering comprehensive storage management, robust utility, and advantages in disaster avoidance and recovery. Enterprises planning for SAN integration into their IT infrastructure need to understand, however, the complexity of the system and the dedicated resources required to manage it. Although a SAN provides a robust system for storage, the implications of concentrating all data in a single system for availability and recovery should be fully understood.

Technology And Decision Drivers
Disk subsystems have advanced in capacity and performance, and continue to do so. A decision to centralize all storage should be based on an assessment of storage needs across all systems. What enterprises may discover in this assessment is that both system administrators and server processors spend significant time managing storage resources. With a system dedicated to storage management, the system administrators can focus their expertise on the systems they manage, and the server processors can focus their power on serving applications.

In selecting a storage network, some decisions have to be made as to the technology best-suited for a particular enterprise. The alternatives available are dedicated storage, SAN, and network-attached storage (NAS). The technology selection will primarily depend on the existing staff expertise and the needs of the organization.

  • If storage is primarily used for access by user workstations directly (such as files from intranet, network-mapped drives, etc.), a NAS solution may be a good alternative, since it will use the primary network for this access.
  • If primary use is for data manipulation and delivery to users through server applications, SAN will be a good alternative, since it comes with its own channels for connection to application and database servers.
  • The access to these storage systems needs to be assessed, and an adequate channel should be dedicated using Fibre Channel or advanced SCSI connections, which has to be balanced against budgets.
  • A choice in technology should be made based on available vendor support and relationships with the vendor. In addition, internal resources and their training needs should be considered.
  • The SAN "fabric" connection is a key piece, since that's what binds the storage to the systems. Most SAN vendors purchase this switch from third parties. A good understanding of the original manufacturer, technology, and equipment should be a part of the selection criteria.
  • A complete solution should be obtained from a single vendor, since the overhead and maintenance cost of putting together components can far outweigh the initial cost of components.
  • SAN/NAS security and controlled upgrades are key criteria for selection. Selection of vendor should include a complete understanding of past incidents and responses.
  • Storage is a management challenge; a storage solution should be able to assist in this challenge. A SAN solution should offer backup, tiered storage, and other alternatives to maintain both high-demand and low-demand storage.

  • Related Links
    Storage Pipeline

    Storage Networking Industry Association

    Storage area networks bring a well-managed storage utility to the enterprise. The selection and management of the appropriate technology depends on budget and needs. But ongoing management and upkeep of the solution requires a disciplined approach, since concentrating data on a central facility makes that the crown jewel of the enterprise.

    Humayun Beg, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 18 years of experience in business IT management, technology deployment, and risk management. He has significant experience in all aspects of systems management, software development, and project management, and has held key positions in directing major IT initiatives and projects.

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