The Storage Network Conundrum

Products, standards hard pressed to keep up with storage gains.

During the past year, innovations and emerging technologies have made storage more accessible, powerful and inexpensive (from a cost-per-megabyte point of view) than ever before. Despite these improvements—and, to some degree, because of them—storage networking and management have become two of the biggest headaches for IT managers.

The problem with storage today can be summed up in one word: complexity.

The emergence of ATA-based RAIDs has increased capacity at reasonable costs, and the recent release of iSCSI products such as Cisco Systems Inc.s MDS Series has made storage accessible at a block level over IP. However, storage management tools to adequately rein in the ever-increasing stockpiles of storage have not come fast enough.

End-to-end storage management solutions are difficult to create because applications from different vendors typically dont work well together. As a result, storage and network administrators need to learn how to use several interfaces just to perform simple daily storage management tasks.

End-to-end solutions from a single vendor are available. EMC Corp., for example, offers such a system with its Control Center, which uses the network (IP and Fibre Channel) to manage and monitor storage hardware and servers. However, Control Center can manage only a small number of the storage hardware devices available.

The current climate makes a single-vendor storage platform sound extremely attrac-tive. Once invested, however, it could take several years to break out of the proprietary technology trap, so we advise that IT managers shop around long and hard before settling on a single-vendor solution.

Intelligent switches such as Maxxan Systems Inc.s Maxxan MXV329 may also help ease storage management. Software developers will be able to write management applications that run on these switches instead of on stand-alone application servers. By moving the management within the network, administrators will be able to see all storage elements from a central position.