Unique Approach To Storage - InformationWeek

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2/19/2004
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Unique Approach To Storage

Startup Sandial Systems says adding intelligent software to its switch lets it enforce quality-of-service levels for crucial enterprise applications

As switches for storage networks become more common, businesses can have a tough time deciding which product is right for them. While storage switches are a long way from becoming a commodity, vendors are trying to add features and capabilities to make their gear stand out from the competition.

Sandial Systems Inc., a startup company, last week introduced the Shadow 14000, which it describes as a "backbone-class" storage area network switch that can provide control over data traffic to ensure good performance. The Fibre Channel switch provisions storage resources on a per-connection basis through the use of software called ConnectIQ.

Most switches let storage administrators dole out job priorities, but they often lock out all but the most important traffic. With the Shadow switch, administrators could let certain percentages of multiple jobs through the network. That would make it easier to consolidate storage resources and still allocate enough storage and bandwidth to make sure that applications meet business demands and perform at specified levels.

Early customers say the switch provides benefits. Pierre Baudet, business-systems manager at New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., a footwear manufacturer and distributor, says the Shadow switch and new applications are helping the company develop products more quickly. "The switch lets us stay online and maintain performance during backups and tests, letting us stay up all the time for workers around the world," he says.

Baudet tried other Fibre Channel switches. "Sandial applies Ethernet quality of service and reliability," he says. "No other Fibre Channel switch has the same functionality."

By trying to ensure network quality-of-service levels, Sandial's switch takes a different approach from other switch vendors like Brocade Communications Systems, Cisco Systems, and McData, says Mike Fisch, an analyst at the Clipper Group. "Sandial should be able to help with server and storage consolidation, economic efficiencies, and more control over the service levels that apps experience," he says. "If some apps are more critical, Sandial could mean more control to ensure workers get their jobs done."

Rob Edwards

Sandial has helped IDEXX cut administrative costs, Edwards says.

Rob Edwards
Another customer looked at Cisco switches at the same time he was checking out Sandial. "Cisco was all theory, but there was no product there," says Rob Edwards, network infrastructure manager at IDEXX Laboratories Inc. IDEXX develops and commercializes technology-based products and services for veterinary, food, and environmental applications. "I don't think the Shadow 14000 has burped once."

Edwards is responsible for approximately 150 Windows servers and is consolidating the servers' direct-attached storage devices on a storage area network with a Hewlett-Packard XP N24 at the center. He's up to 50 terabytes of data and counting. Sandial, Edwards says, already has improved the performance of two important apps, VetConnect.com and EConsult.com. "This spring, I hope to present to the whole company how Sandial could help us all be more productive," Edwards says.

Sandial already has helped IDEXX cut administrative costs. Over six months, Edwards compared the amount of staff power it took to provision storage capacity, identify network problems, and ensure better access performance for users. "We cut our administrative time down by 300%," he says.

The Shadow 14000 supports 144 network interfaces that operate at 2 Gbps and can handle more than 20,000 concurrent data-traffic flows. The capacity of the switch can extend to 288 interfaces and 80,000 concurrent traffic flows.

Sandial says more than 20 businesses are using the switch, which starts at around $150,000.

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