SNW: Desert Reflections

Takeaways - besides the straw cowboy hats - from weeklong conference in Phoenix

April 16, 2005

5 Min Read
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PHOENIX -- Storage Networking World -- Eeeeyaaa!! Five days of the Storage Networking World conference here were capped by a Southwest-style barbecue and Wild West Show last night, during which a cowgirl twirled pistols and cracked bullwhips perilously close to attendees' complimentary cowboy hats.

It was a fitting metaphor for the state of storage networking. IT and storage managers face tighter-than-ever budgets, even as business demands proliferate. No doubt some were thinking of their boards or bosses as the gunpowder wafted over the dessert table last night.

The tradeshow itself was upbeat, with plenty of talk of solutions and innovation. Indeed, while this week didn't produce any earth-shaking product news, it yielded lots of points to track. Here are a few developments we'll be keeping an eye on:

  • Virtualization: The V word was on all lips, even more so when Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) announced plans to acquire Topspin Communications Inc., a maker of server fabric switches with virtualization (see Cisco Takes On Topspin). What exactly Cisco will do with Topspin's ability to virtually represent a range of data center technologies remains a virtual question. One thing, though: It gives Cisco a hand in decoupling the management of storage from the actual underlying hardware. That trend is being pursued in switches, SAN and NAS gear, virtual file systems, and a raft of other products.

    This shows virtualization isn't now, and won't in future be, relegated to one device. "It will be everywhere," says Bob Schultz, senior VP and general manager of Network Storage Solutions at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ). That said, virtualization is being more carefully considered these post-bubble days. "Virtualization is a critical element to next-generation IT, but it's not a panacea," says Jeff Nick, CTO of EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). Nick himself advocates virtualization in the network: "Virtualization is emulation. If done without the right pass-through to the underlying infrastructure, it introduces great overhead and depreciation." Lots to think about there.

  • Standards: The SNW conference showcased demos and progress in the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) to help manage multivendor storage gear. The group released its first client conformance test suite for its SMI-S specs and declared a passel of vendors passed (see SNIA Releases Client Conformance).

    Is anyone listening? Implementation of SNIA standards is still in the planning stages. Even Chris Wilson, storage architect at MCI Inc. (Nasdaq: MCIP) and the poster user presented for the rollout of the specs at SWN this week, admits he's just kicking the tires in his labs. And as shown in our latest Byte and Switch Poll, multivendor issues remain a major sticking point among users. They believe vendors pay lip service to interoperability of equipment and management interfaces, while harboring a reluctance to part with any bit of turf. Here's an area to watch with a vengeance.

  • Four-Gig Fibre Channel: It's only a question of when, and most observers think by early next year, users will be adopting 4-Gbit/s simply because they can't afford to pass it up. Switches have been announced by Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC), and one is shortly expected from Cisco. There are new controllers from Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), ATTO Technology Inc., and Engenio Information Technologies Inc., and HBAs from ATTO, Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX), LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI), and Qlogic (see Four-Gig HBAs on Parade). Pricing will be on par, and gear backward-compatible. It's a no-brainer. The big question is: What will be its effect on the progress of IP SANs? Some think faster FC will help accelerate deployment of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet and InfiniBand.

  • WAN Storage Networking: More SANs means more need for extending networks over distances. Work is ongoing in several areas to help reduce the pain involved. There are WAN optimizers and wide-area file services (WAFS) products, both of which are aimed at cutting the cost of backup and disaster recovery over expensive WAN links (see WAFS vs WAN Optimization: No Contest). There also are a growing range of Sonet-based SAN services, typified by WilTelCommunications Group Inc. StorageXtend managed services, which lets customers vary the amount of bandwidth they require by the month, in increments of 50 Mbit/s.For those looking to build their own storage nets, equipment vendors like ADVA Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV), Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), and PacketLight Networks Ltd. offer gear to build metro DWDM/CWDM networks with dark fiber, or to maximize storage bandwidth over IP. Clearly, there's more interest than ever in WAN SANs. Stay tuned.

  • IP SANs: Users and vendors alike have put iSCSI in its place for now, as a useful adjunct to Fibre Channel for some kinds of remote offices. That's hardly the vision conjured at past shows, but it looks like the one that's closer to reality. "A lot of poor implementations spoiled the market," says Chris Short, VP of North American sales at PyX Technologies Inc., a software company that writes iSCSI target and initiator programs for OEMs like LSI Logic. Despite a flurry of poor products rushed out, though, he thinks IP SANs are on the ramp up. "It's like VOIP," he maintains -- it took years to work out the kinks, but that technology has taken hold and IP SANs will follow.

These are just a few of the topics that stirred thought at this week's show -- hardly a comprehensive list. There are developments afoot in software, SAN hardware, and services that could take up another few articles. (That's presumably why SNW is a weeklong event!) So with newspaper in one hand (reporting that IT sales are down) and cowboy hat in the other, we're off to the friendly skies, with lots to think about.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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