Users Want Better Basics

Users at conference aren't in a rush for advanced features; they want better management

April 27, 2004

4 Min Read
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NEW YORK -- A single console for managing switches and storage is the missing feature storage administrators seem to want the most, judging by a panel discussion about switch vendors at the Storage Decisions conference here today.

The administrators also had a few unsettling comments: They agreed that iSCSI, 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel, and 10-Gbit/s links can wait, and they would like to move intelligence away from the storage system but not necessarily onto the switch. Three of the four said they're happy with the status quo among switch vendors. Only one said he is willing to embrace product from a startup.

Further, panelists Peter Carucci of the New York Stock Exchange, Abdul Marani of Coca Cola, Gabriel Sandu of Maimonides Medical Center, and Patrick Swartz of First Data's Digital ROM Services agreed on one thing unanimously: They have to manage storage through one console and their switches through another, and they're tired of that.

We use McData SANavigator to manage our SAN and IBM Tivoli

software to manage storage,” said Marani, who uses 700 McData ports to manage 140 TBytes of storage on an IBM SAN. “I wanted to use an integrated tool but couldn’t find one.”

As for emerging technologies, the administrators agree they don’t need iSCSI or faster speeds, but they like to know their vendor will support them.“I have no need for iSCSI, 4-gig, or 10-gig now, but I know I will,” said Swartz, the only one on the panel to use switches from a startup, Sandial Systems Inc. “You grow into whatever is available. It’s like your paycheck -- no matter how much you make, you spend your paycheck.”

As for intelligence, the four said it is good to move it away from the SAN system.

“Intelligence is an exciting concept,” said Carucci, who uses Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) switches with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) storage systems. “If you can put it in the fabric and avoid having to pay storage vendors for that, I’m all for it. I’d prefer intelligence as a blade on a switch. It’s not a make-or-break decision when it comes to selecting a vendor, but we at least need a roadmap.”

The others agreed on the need for intelligence that's not part of the storage system, but not all think the switch is the ideal place for it. “Intelligence doesn’t have to be in the switch,” said Coca-Cola's Marani. “We see a need for virtualization, but we want switches to do switching, and [we'd like to] put the virtualization on a separate platform.”

When it comes to buying from a startup, three admins gave emphatic thumbs down. “There’s no incentive,” Carucci said. “Even if Sandial came in and offered a price incentive, Brocade wouldn’t stand for that. They’d come in with a competitive offer.”Of course, Sandial customer Swartz disagrees. “I chose Sandial because they met all of my qualifications -- port count, reliability, scaleability, and so on,” he said. “I for one am not scared of a new company. We looked at Brocade, Cisco, McData, and Sandial. There was always some issue with one of the three that didn’t meet my specific criteria.”

Swartz was also the only of the four who said his switch influenced his choice of storage vendor instead of the other way around. "I’m looking for storage that will support my switch,” he said. “XIOtech and Hitachi Data Systems [SANs] support Sandial; EMCdoes not. That’s more of a negative against EMC than a negative against Sandial.”

As for general criteria in selecting a vendor, the four agree that each company has its specific needs.

“If I had to list the criteria, I’d say scaleability, performance, ease of management, and it has to be supported by my primary storage vendor,” saidCarucci.

“We wanted five nines of availability so we decided to go with McData... to interface with our core director switches,” Marani said.“The company has to have a long-range play,” Swartz maintained. “If I had to move from 2-gig today to 4-gig, I couldn’t afford to make a full swap. Also, I needed to add ports at a granular level instead of eight ports at a time.”

“It has to be a strong company that’s going to be on the market for a long period,” said Sandu, who manages 20 TBytes on an IBM SAN over two sites. “When we first went to a SAN, we were looking to mirror all data across two sites. Cisco was emulating Fibre over IP, so we went with them.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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