Net Storage Gotchas

Networked storage outpaces das but has a way to go.

Networked storage is the future—and the future is already here. According to International Data Corp. numbers, sales of networked storage this month surpassed those of DAS (direct-attached storage) for the first time. If dollars equal votes, the people have spoken, and it is clear that storage consolidation, through NAS and SAN technologies, is a major goal of IT managers.

Networked storage allows servers to share consolidated storage resources, which in theory should increase storage utilization while driving down management costs. For most companies, the move toward storage consolidation seems like a no-brainer. When given the choice of managing 20 external arrays or one big one, most every IT manager would pick one big one. But in doing so, many pros are finding out that they have traded in many little headaches for one large one.

Thats because management tools are not equal to the task of reaping the rewards of storage consolidation. Network storage is nowhere near reaching its potential.

As much as vendors like to emphasize that storage consolidation saves money, utilization of networked storage resources is still relatively low, thanks to weak management tools. This is particularly a problem with SANs.

Because the price per megabyte for storage hardware is going down, IT managers would like to be able to buy just enough storage to meet their needs—adding more cost-effective hardware in the future as needed. Unfortunately, it is difficult to move and resize storage resources using todays management tools, which are designed more for aggregating storage than for carving and relocating resources. As a result, IT managers still wind up buying more storage than they need, letting much of it sit idle. This, obviously, defeats the original purpose of implementing networked storage—saving money.

One solution to the problem is storage management automation, which is slowly but surely making its way to the marketplace. It will be able to analyze storage usage and redirect resources to needy servers on demand without any human intervention.

However, most of the current products dont work with multiple vendors equipment. That forces IT managers to lock in with specific vendors to get end-to-end storage management. Selecting a single vendor dilutes the customers ability to benefit from lower hardware prices that result from market competition.

In the future, storage management automation products should become more advanced to the point where they can provide quality-of-service functionality to ensure that high-performance, transaction-intensive servers are given the fastest storage resources. But that functionality is not available yet.

Manageability is not the only gotcha. Security is another major problem that will become more prominent with the advancement of networked storage. Fibre Channel networks, typically used in SANs, rarely have any security outside of basic password protection and some LUN masking and zoning. However, that could be compromised if someone were to hack a switch management password or compromise the Web-based management utilities in most of these devices.

For the most part, Fibre Channel SANs havent needed much security. Since they are separate networks, they cannot be accessed freely without physical access to the SANs. This is all changing, however, with the emergence of iSCSI, which will put storage traffic on IP, where it will be more accessible to outsiders.

The good news for IT managers is that vendors like Decru with its DataFort products have emerged with tools to encrypt the data path of storage networks. The bad news is that IT managers will now have to start investing in internal security systems such as DataFort in addition to perimeter systems like firewalls, which should take another chunk out of the cost savings IT managers thought they would get moving to networked storage.

All this doesnt mean that networked storage is not superior to the direct-attached variety—NAS and SAN technologies are still the future. But it does mean you should examine vendor claims carefully and avoid rushing into deployments. Take a hard look and make sure you can get the tools you need to realize the kind of cost savings that will make the move to networked storage pay off.

Henry Baltazar can be reached at