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Storage Alchemy: Kicking and Screaming

Commodization means truly competing, and not just against peers. It means competing against smaller, more nimble companies. It means competing with companies that may not have been in the network storage market previously.

Look at the vendors you're dealing with for your storage area network. Are they paying attention to the developments in IP and Ethernet? If not, ask them why not. Some companies have buried their heads in the sand, hoping Ethernet and IP storage will just go away. I don't believe they will, and you shouldn't either. A company that isn't prepping products or at least developing a strategy for that market is kidding itself.

Take, for instance, the recent announcement by Cisco heralding its entry into Fibre Channel switching. Many people misinterpreted this as a victory for Fibre Channel, but don't be fooled. Cisco is committed to Ethernet. Its designs are bladed, and it has iSCSI modules on the way. Cisco aims to compete, and it aims to make sure Ethernet and IP get a solid foothold in the storage network. Fibre Channel simply establishes Cisco as a storage company in the current Fibre Channel-centric market. Don't forget, Cisco's first storage product was a gateway from Fibre Channel to Ethernet. Ethernet is a technology that has crushed everything set squarely in its path. Remember token ring? ATM to the desktop? Ethernet and IP aren't suitable for everything, but they will do well in storage networks. Don't get me wrong, Fibre Channel isn't going to dry up and blow away. It will have a long retirement, and there's certainly room for companies to make some money on it. However, it's simply not the future.

Smart storage vendors are focusing on interoperability and manageability and making their first forays into the iSCSI market. Storage networks, particularly Fibre Channel storage networks, have long been as easy to manage as a trio of sugared-up two-year-olds in a Chuck E. Cheese. Why? Because people tend to buy what they know, and they don't know Fibre Channel--the technology is still foreign to most systems administrators. Also, companies that don't yet have networked storage would have to learn both parts of the equation--transport and storage. With an IP- and Ethernet-based storage network, they'll only have to learn the storage-specific portion. This is going to be a significant driver for IP storage networks. Traditional storage companies will come up against the likes of Cisco and Intel. Add 10 Gigabit Ethernet to the mix, and you have a real contender.

That's why some traditional storage companies don't want the change. It will kill their overwhelming market share and help to level the playing field. So be sure to buy from a company that has a flexible vision of the future--not one that's being dragged kicking and screaming into it.

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