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The Next xAN

We're all familiar with SANs, but what about BAN, CAN, DAN, PAN (no, not Personal Area Network), and other variations of the "S" in SAN?

Nothing appeals to a marketing manager more than creating a new term of art, particularly one that can stick in the way that LAN, the acronym for local area networks, did over a decade ago. In recent months, the number of new acronyms popping up to describe and define new networking paradigms is remarkable, and though potentially excessive, it does reflect an important new trend in networking namely, the renewed focus on optimizing and scaling the enterprise data center.

We've been talking with a few companies focusing on networking solutions specifically targeting next-generation enterprise server environments. We began our search at the grand payoff – the "Grid" – and worked our way back to today's reality: the increasingly complex and unwieldy data center. We talked with every big server vendor out there, including Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) (NYSE: SGI). Then we met with the Ethernet switch vendors, and ended with a number of interesting startups ranging from pure-play software vendors to others offering complete data center solutions, with a mix of CPU, storage, interconnect, and switching technologies all in a chassis managed as a single unit.

The ambitions of these companies couldn't be more diverse. One wants to improve Oracle database performance by improving I/O on servers and SANs. Another is looking to enable on-demand computing by virtualizing storage and CPU within a data center, using commodity servers and Linux OS with a distributed computing software platform. Yet another envisions building the Grid by developing the APIs, tools, and middleware necessary to support the distribution of massive data sets across a global computing infrastructure.

One thing is undeniably clear: While telecom vendors decide what product lines to cut, what R&D to lay fallow, which customers to abandon and which to court, companies focusing on the enterprise are tirelessly attempting to reinvent the entire notion of the data center. The activity here is truly progressive.

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