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Increase Your SAN Smarts

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With data growing exponentially and storage consuming an ever-larger portion of data center budgets, storage area networks (SANs) have become a critical part of corporate IT infrastructures.

SANs are fast becoming a critical part of many IT infrastructures. Deploying and managing a SAN often presents as many challenges as it solves. Learn best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid.

But deploying and managing a SAN can present as many challenges as it solves.

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Richard Martin, director of EMC’s Technology Solutions Group, says there are quite a few challenges in deploying a SAN, and they fall mainly into two camps: people and technology.

“Every storage implementation has unique requirements and must be tailored to the existing applications, servers, disk arrays and management software,” says Martin. Proprietary technologies and fear of vendor lock-in are also a concern, but he notes the situation is improving.

From a personnel standpoint, Martin believes SANs require some investment in skills development, training and education for the designated storage manager and storage team.

“In many cases, to effectively leverage the SAN across the organization, storage must be seen as a shared resource across the entire organization,” says Martin. This requires reducing or eliminating silos or environments where there are dedicated servers to certain departments.

Others view SANs as a great technology that enables multiple hosts to see multiple storage devices — many-to-many rather than one-to-one — to increase storage utilization rates. But implementing the technology is fraught with challenges that can distract from the ‘promised’ benefits.

“The first major challenge in deploying a SAN is integrating the additional elements that must be purchased, managed and supported into the existing IT environment,” says David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR. “A SAN which delivers both high performance and high availability can require a substantial amount of incremental equipment, especially if the attached storage devices possess only limited Fibre Channel connectivity.”

Scott said both the storage manager and the storage team must be able to absorb the new management and tuning tasks that come with come with incremental changes to the SAN. If this is not successfully achieved, says Scott, additional storage experts may need to be brought in at additional cost.

“This often involves hiring storage experts and/or enlisting costly professional services,” he says. “Ongoing management and tuning for availability, performance, growth, security, etc., are crucial aspects to any SAN deployment and can be burdensome to an IT organization.”

Another challenge, which Scott says is inherent with implementing a SAN, is the struggle to obtain an acceptable return on investment (ROI).

“Although SANs were designed to address the issue of utilization and do this reasonably well, the costs are high and often the increase in utilization rates is only incremental and not enough to truly justify the additional and ongoing investment in expert resources,” he says. SANs are good at distributing allocatable storage from multiple arrays, says Scott, but they don’t address the larger problem of allocated-but-unused storage the way that true utility storage architectures do.

That said, Scott believes there is some good news on the SAN front. “The good news is that these challenges are simply a limitation of the technology, and are why traditional approaches to data storage are gradually being supplanted by true utility storage approaches designed from the ground up to address the needs of enterprises looking to implement storage utility services,” he says.

Others say the biggest challenge in deploying a SAN is the difficulty of scaling traditional SAN solutions.

“Exponential data growth compounded with the need to control IT costs has given IT managers little choice but to explore alternative technologies to traditional SANs, creating a very large market opportunity for innovative storage solution companies,” says John Joseph, vice president of marketing at EqualLogic.

Storage Vendors Need to Help

Still others believe the biggest challenge in deploying a SAN comes from the people who make the technology.

“Storage vendors must continue to raise the bar on the quality of service provided to administrators, who are increasingly being pulled in all directions,” says Bruce Kornfeld, vice president of marketing at Compellent. “All SANs should be straightforward for administrators to install, but they’re not. Vendors make it very hard — they require proprietary hardware, they limit recovery points, they require certain operating systems, and they limit capacity expansion, just to name a few.”

Some experts are even suggesting storage technology vendors be required to take ownership of developing knowledge and skills in the Industry when they introduce new technologies.

Ron Trautwein, executive director of information technology at Seagate, says the biggest needs in implementing a SAN are having good requirements, heterogeneous implementation, knowledgeable people, reliable storage arrays, and expandable infrastructure.

Last but not least, there are those that believe that the entire subject of storage, including deploying a SAN, would be less challenging if universities, colleges and training providers included more storage technology courses in their curricula.

There is little doubt that organizations need a storage model that addresses the major data management and availability requirements of a growing business, yet there is widespread disagreement over how to achieve that. However, most industry experts would agree that in addition to having reliable storage equipment, the second most important aspect of ensuring a reliable storage environment is having a team of highly skilled professionals, since these are the people who make sure an organization can continue to provide the right information, to the right people, at the right time.

This article was originally published on Enterprise Storage Forum.

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