Storage Standards Lagging

Costs are dropping, but vendor lock-in is still a problem.

Reducing costs has been a major goal for it managers during the past few years, and this year storage vendors delivered technologies to help lighten the burden.

In 2004, I saw plenty of hardware and software solutions designed to reduce storage costs, but there still is room for improvement.

Innovations in hardware have helped IT managers reduce costs for storage networking and capacity. iSCSI emerged in full force last year, not only giving IT managers an inexpensive way to connect their servers to their SANs but also giving them a way to extend their SANs across WANs.

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Using software initiators such as Microsofts iSCSI Initiator and leveraging IP networks, iSCSI allows IT managers to expand the range of SANs far beyond what was possible with Fibre Channel alone. (Red Hats Red Hat Enterprise Linux Update 4 will have iSCSI support.)

Another trend that continued to accelerate this year was the use of inexpensive ATA storage arrays.

Thanks to ATA-based arrays (both Serial ATA and Ultra ATA), IT managers now have inexpensive storage systems to complement their Fibre Channel storage systems, delivering high-storage capacity at low costs.

ILM is in

ILM, for better or worse, became this years buzzword in the storage industry. Information lifecycle management solutions, which are now heavily marketed by virtually every storage vendor on the planet, promise to make the end-to-end management of storage easier and more automated than ever before.

Based on what I have seen so far in demos and trade shows, Im convinced these solutions will be able to simplify storage management in the future and hopefully reduce costs.

Unfortunately, there is currently no interoperability among ILM solutions and, worse yet, no real standardization. So vendor lock-in is a potential problem that IT managers cannot ignore.

Without interoperability, IT managers will not be able to switch ILM platforms easily, which will prevent market competition from reducing costs.

Considering that the storage industry is notorious for trying to lock in clients and for dragging its feet when it comes to interoperability, I wouldnt be surprised if it takes years to develop interoperability standards for ILM and other storage management products.

The Storage Networking Industry Association is working to set up standards for ILM, but I wouldnt hold my breath.

To meet compliance guidelines for a wide variety of regulations, including Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and SEC 17a-4, storage vendors such as EMC and Network Appliance have created hard drive-based WORM solutions that allow fast recovery of data while keeping it preserved and archived.

Although these solutions work well, they are proprietary technologies. This means IT managers should use caution when choosing an implementation because the absence of a WORM standard could keep them locked in to their chosen solution for several years.

For the good of the industry and customers, storage vendors must hammer out their differences and complete the standards in a timely fashion.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar began working in the Labs in 1997. Previously, he worked as an IT consultant and digital cartographer. Henry covers several technologies that are at the core of IT management but has become known for his expertise in the areas of storage and storage networking. In fact, he developed some of the earliest testbeds and techniques for measuring the performance of storage area networking systems.

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