Build Your Own SAN

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2002-05-15 Print this article Print

We provide hands-on guidance to Storage Area Network implementation for small and medium-sized businesses. And who knows, many of us might install SANs in our homes in the not too distant future!

Weve been focusing a lot lately on end-user technology stories, but we felt that the large contingent of IT folks who frequent ExtremeTech and work in small to medium businesses might really appreciate this story. And for all of you tech enthusiasts who want to get a step ahead of the crowd and implement a Home SAN--dont laugh, many of you will be doing this in the future--you may want to read this story to understand what goes in to building a SAN today. And you may also want to check out our earlier story called "Introduction to SANs: Technology, Benefits, and Applications" for some background. Without further ado, lets dive in… As recently as two years ago, the thought of building a Fibre Channel (SAN) Storage Area Network without the help of an integrator would have been foolhardy, if not impossible, due to the fact that interoperability in the Fibre Channel realm was erratic. Note that most SANs are still based on Fibre Channel networking technology, but the emerging iSCSI standard, and Fibre Channel over IP standards like iFCP are making inroads, and in a future story, well be getting deep into iSCSI technology, and also implementing iSCSI SANs. For this story, well stay focused on Fibre Channel SANs.
While the task of building a SAN can still be complicated and time consuming today, the good news is that we are finally at a state where this technology is accessible for mid-sized companies and even some small companies.
In this story, well walk through the major steps that all IT managers need to go through to build their SANs. In our first section we discuss the basic components of a Fibre Channel implementation and explain how to install and configure each of the components in a direct-attached storage configuration. Next, well discuss the challenges of storage networking and go over basic Fibre Channel switch configuration. In the end, well put together a small SAN implementation, with the basic structure seen below. Physical Topology This story is designed to give readers an overview of the implementation of SANs, but it should be noted that there are several sources which we recommend for additional information. Robert W. Kembels book, The Fibre Channel Consultant: A Comprehensive Introduction (published by Northwest Learning Associates, Inc in 1998) describes in exquisite detail the inner workings of Fibre Channel and its protocols. For readers that are looking for a high level overview of Fibre Channel and SANs, we recommend Marc Farleys book, Building Storage Networks (published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill in 2000). Well focus on three main sections including: SAN components and setting up direct-attached storage (DAS) with Fibre Channel; Configuration of Fibre Channel storage networks; and performance testing a SAN.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at

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