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Advances in Network Storage Access Offer New Options

Corporate storage managers tend to make strategic and technology infrastructure adjustments in timeframes of five to seven years, which lets them deploy new storage technologies while preserving infrastructure that has worked reliably for years.

It is unlikely that storage managers are going to modify that approach and start making changes at Internet speed. But there are advances in storage access technologies making their way onto the field that promise to help data center managers more capably deal with virtualization, green initiatives, speed, performance, and total cost of ownership. In addition to existing options like Fibre Channel and iSCSI, additional data center storage infrastructure alternatives making noise include Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) and 6 gigabit per second Serial Attached SCSI (6 Gbit/s SAS). All of these options will be part of data center planning topics in the next year or two.

FC, FCOE, iSCSI, and 6 Gbit/s SAS each have their own value propositions, which makes it imperative for data center managers to understand where their data infrastructures are headed, the needs of mission-critical applications, what effect new directives like virtualization will have on storage needs, and how best to manage asset acquisition and retirement cycles. Depending on the mix of storage access technologies implemented, staffing requirements and data center cultures could also change.

"I think that we will continue to see large enterprises use Fibre Channel technology, since they already have major investments there," said Dennis Martin, president of Demartek , a technology research and test center. Martin estimates that 80 percent to 90 percent of large enterprises are already using Fibre Channel, and that's not likely to change. The same organizations are likely to affect gradual transitions into FCOE, which will let them run a single converged IP network for storage and networking and evolve to 10-Gigabit Ethernet. "This will greatly accelerate access as networks converge, especially when you consider that as 8-Gigabit FC enters the market today, most sites have not even driven the 4-Gigabit FC very hard yet," said Martin.

Some vendors and blogs have claimed that less expensive iSCSI can meet high-performance storage access needs as capably as Fibre Channel, and some even have predicted that iSCSI will displace Fibre Channel. But Martin has a different perspective.

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