SANs Bring Sanity To Storage

Growing volumes of data and increased adoption of lower-cost technology will accelerate deployments in 2006.

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

December 31, 2005

5 Min Read

Leslie Riester has a storage problem, and she's far from alone. The associate VP of technology solution services at Portland Community College has been watching helplessly as students and faculty store ever-larger quantities of data, outstripping the space available. With 250,000 students relying on the multicampus school's Web-based portal to manage their school information, Riester established a 100-Mbyte limit on how much data each student can store on the site. "That's nothing," she says. "They get more than that on Yahoo."

Meanwhile, the school's staff has been storing as much data as they can on their desktop PCs. But that's creating security problems and could be a business-recovery nightmare, not to mention the IT-support challenges that crop up when a user moves from one computer to another. Riester believes the answer is to deploy a storage area network to give users all the storage they need, simplify support, and provide the business-recovery capabilities that will let her sleep easier.

With a SAN budget of $300,000 to $350,000, the school likely will implement the technology sooner rather than later, because iSCSI technology, which lets data-storage traffic ride on an existing IP network, doesn't need the hardware investment or expertise required for more established Fibre Channel technology. "It certainly makes the decision easier because it will be less expensive and easier for my staff to work with," Riester says.

Year's Hot Technology
Storage area networks are specialized high-speed subnetworks that connect storage devices and make them available to servers throughout a corporate network. Half of the 300 business-technology professionals surveyed by InformationWeek Research list storage area networks among their planned projects for the coming year. Forty percent say implementing enterprise storage systems is on their 2006 to-do lists.

There are many reasons SANs are popular. Forty-six percent of those responding to the InformationWeek survey say organizing and utilizing customer data is a business priority for their IT organizations in 2006, while 45% say reporting financial data more accurately is a priority.

Small and midsize companies need more-sophisticated storage options to contend with mounting volumes of data. The maturation of iSCSI technology is piquing interest in SANs among companies for whom Fibre Channel has been too expensive. Widespread realization that storage attached to particular applications or lines of business creates data silos is driving companies to establish SANs to improve the performance and security of critical apps.

The rise of iSCSI may be the most significant factor in the momentum of the SAN market, says Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Taneja Group, a data-storage consulting firm. The iSCSI SAN market, which Taneja pegs at no more than $80 million for 2005, will double or triple in 2006, in part because of rising interest in the technology among larger companies looking to cut storage costs for archiving applications and less-than-mission-critical systems, he says. Companies have systems that they'd like to convert to storage area networks, but they don't want to spend the money required for Fibre Channel, he says. "There will be cases where IT would have gone to Fibre Channel but chose to go to iSCSI," Taneja says.

That's not to say Fibre Channel is defunct; Taneja expects that $4 billion market to grow between 8% and 12% this year. Those are numbers echoed by EMC Corp., one of the biggest vendors in storage. It continues to plan for Fibre Channel to be the lion's share of its SAN sales but is ramping up support of iSCSI for all its storage products. "We're very bullish on iSCSI as an alternative," says Tom Joyce, EMC's VP of storage platform marketing. "We're going to prepare ourselves to deliver all of these technologies and let the customer pick."

Second Look At iScsi

One EMC customer, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, plans to invest $1.5 million this year to upgrade the SAN it installed three years ago, as well as to build a second SAN for backup storage. The utility district is leaning toward Fibre Channel because of its superior performance, but it may take a second look at iSCSI because of advances in the technology, says Tom Timperio, the utility district's business-technology program manager.

Whichever way it goes, Timperio says experience has shown SANs to be the best storage option available for ensuring the availability and security of its most important applications--namely, its SAP ERP system and the utility-industry-specific application used to manage work orders. And the storage requirements of those apps, as well as every other system the district runs, are sure to expand. "Storage keeps growing and growing," Timperio says. "We're never going to have less."

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