The Grand SAN Plan

A bunch of vendors want to ease the pain involved in building andoperating storage nets

June 7, 2001

3 Min Read
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Earlier this week, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) announced a plan to help users avoid the agonies of building andoperating multivendor storage area networks (see SAN Standards Advance).

The scheme, called the Supported Solutions Forum (SSF), aims to do twothings:

First, establish a library of multivendor storage network designs forcommon user requirements that have already been tested by the vendors. Theidea is that this will help users avoid a lot of time and hassle indesigning, building, and testing their own multivendor networks.

Second, give users a single point of contact for trouble-shooting, so theyre less likely to find themselves caught between vendors blaming each other forproblems.

So, should we enthusiastically hail this breakthrough in storage networking interoperability? Or does SNIA's grand plan rate a shrug?First off, it's important to realize that much of what SNIA is proposingalready happens informally. Storage networks are often expensive andcomplicated, embracing, as they do, a diverse range of hardware and software. That's forced vendors to work closely together to make sure that joint projectswill perform as promised. As a result, most vendors already have ready-made solutions for common userrequirements, based on agreements with other vendors. Most vendors havealso announced "open SAN" initiatives aimed at encouraging suchpartnerships.

The SNIA scheme aims to take this concept to another level, holding out to users thepromise of a wider range of ready-made options from a widerrange of vendors. At least, that's the idea. Right now, however, the jury's still out on whether the SSF will go the way of other initiatives aimedat establishing industry-wide interoperability -- many of which have gotten mired in vendor politics and lost contact with thereal world. Think ATM Forum.

The danger of getting bogged down in vendor politics is implicitly acknowledged by Don Swatik, vice president of global alliances at

EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), one of the six founding members of the SSF. "We kept the initial group [of members] small for time-to-market reasons," he says. The other founding members are Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ), Hitachi Data Systems, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDT).

These vendors represent a significant share of the SAN market, but the SFFis unlikely to achieve its goals unless it gets support from two potentially huge players – namely, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), each of which is gearing up for an onslaught on the storage market (see Cisco Announces Storage Strategy). SNIA also has about 200 members that have yet to decide whether or not to back the SFF.If they do join the party, the risk of vendor politicking is likely to escalate.

The SFF has been launched with pre-tested "qualified solutions" for a couple of typical customer requirements:One solution, aimed at mid-size installations, uses a Brocade fabricconfiguration created with eight 16-port SilkWorm 2800 Fibre Channelswitches (128 ports total). The Brocade-based configuration includes fourdifferent disk arrays: the StorageWorks EMA-12000 from Compaq; EMC’s Symmetrix8000; the Hitachi Freedom Storage Lightning 9900 Series; and theESS 2105 from IBM.

The other solution, aimed at larger enterprise requirements, centers aroundfour 32-port McData ED-5000 directors (128 ports total). The storagesubsystems in this solution include the StorageWorks ESA-12000,the Symmetrix 8000, the Freedom Storage Lightning 9900Series, and the ESS F20.

Chances are, both of these designs were developed under pre-existingpartnerships among the vendors concerned and have simply been adopted by

the SFF to give it some substance from day one. The meat in this week'sannouncements seems to be the cooperative support agreements signed by thesix founding members. Under these agreements, users in need of support can call any vendor, which will then diagnose the problem and coordinate efforts to
fix it.

So far, the SFF has focused on local and campus SANs. It's yet todevelop qualified solutions for storage networks spanning the opticalinfrastructure of service providers, which explains the absence ofthe likes of Cisco and Nortel in the founding group.

— Ralph Barker, Editor in Chief, Byte and Switch

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