Enterprise Storage Battle Shifts to Storage Managment, SANs

In the battle for the hearts and IT budgets of enterprise users, storage vendors are moving beyond the issue of sheer capacity to the more compelling value propositions of storage management and storage area networks.

While just a few short years ago, the concept of gigabyte storage was viewed as pushing the envelope, the deployment of enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages and the emergence of the Internet and e-business initiatives have driven enterprise users to contemplate more robust solutions, even those in the terabyte and petabyte range.

"There’s a tremendous explosion in growth, fueled by the Internet, e-commerce, data warehousing, data marts, there’s just no shortage of trends that have contributed to the enormous explosion of data that’s required today by corporations," says Charlie Wade, Product Marketing Manager of the Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corporation. "That really has re-sharpened people’s focus on storage as a terribly critical and strategic asset in the IT mix."

"As you go through all of the steps to try to figure out how you enable your environment for enterprise resource planning, you find that in many cases it requires replacing systems as opposed to just revamping them or changing interfaces to them," says Mike Harrison, Director of Marketing, IBM’s Storage Systems Division, "That is a whole other area that is driving increases in storage capacity requirements."

But perhaps even more significant than these rapidly expanding space requirements is the need for users to be able leverage all of the valuable data within the enterprise to support their mission-critical business applications.

Enterprise users’ change of heart about storage is rooted in the fact that, these days, their data is perhaps their most valuable corporate asset. "For many companies you’re talking fiduciary responsibility at the board of directors level if data is damaged or unavailable," Robin Harris, Senior Product Manager, Network Storage Organization, Newark, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems, explains. "If you’re regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, you had better have all of your direct testing data available and it should be protected against alteration, or if you’re building airplanes or bridges, you’d better keep all of your drawings and all of your change orders in permanent storage, because you never know when there’s going to be a requirement that you go back in and detail everything that you’ve done to that particular product."

This more strategic view of storage among enterprise users has raised the profile of storage technology considerably. "I like to joke that storage has become sexy now," quips Joyce Tompsett Becknell, Director of Distributed Computing Research, Newton, Mass.-based Cahners In-Stat Group. "It used to be that everyone thought of storage as ‘let’s throw in this tape drive or the latest speed on the disk drive or the latest size and how much can they cram into the form factor.’ That’s not really the issue anymore. It’s really come up to an enterprise level and IT managers are really beginning to look at this as a strategic decision and how do they manage it."

Storage Management Demand on the Rise

The demand for software that strengthens and manages corporate information flow – including storage management software – currently is very strong and will only get stronger as corporate networks grow ever-more complex, according to Paul Dravis, an enterprise software analyst for NationsBanc Montgomery Securities LLC.

"Computing environments are growing rapidly with the increases in Internet, e-commerce and enterprise resource planning applications," Dravis told attendees of the recent NationsBanc Montgomery Securities Technology Week Conference. "Companies need back-end enterprise software that makes their networks more reliable, scaleable and adaptable, while minimizing the cost of these expanding environments." He pointed out that storage management is an ever-growing issue as the amount of data and the number of storage devices increases.

Market researchers’ projections for storage management market growth appear to confirm that view. According to a report by San Jose, Calif.-based Dataquest, a unit of GartnerGroup, the worldwide storage management software market is on the rise, projected to leap from about $2 billion in 1997 to $4.8 billion by 2002.

Dataquest says this market is being driven by three key segments: core, backup/hierarchical storage management (HSM) and storage resource management (SRM). Core storage management (file systems, volume management and physical replication) are products that provide basic organization functions and ensure data integrity and availability by offering fast failure recovery and data redundancy. Core product vendor revenue reached $478.4 million in 1997. Backup/HSM products, which provide backup, restore, archive and HSM tools, reached $1.33 billion. SRM products, which manage properties of physical and logical storage resources, such as media health, availability, space loading, performance connectivity and utilization, provided $210 million in revenue to vendors in 1997.

Fibre Channel Growth on the Horizon

As the concept of storage area networks (SANs) gains ground, vendors and enterprise users increasingly are looking to fibre channel, a technology that links storage with servers or other storage devices, as a solution for the mass storage dilemma. "Fibre channel is going to be the next big thing in storage," Becknell says. Although there are still issues to be resolved – particularly in the standards environment – fibre channel offers enterprise users a world of new storage opportunities. "There are a lot of things fibre channel is going to allow you to do," she says. "It allows you to have greater distances, which is nice. If you’re in a campus where you need a little more space for storage, it has a longer reach than SCSI."

One key reason for the intense interest in fibre channel has been the fact that the technology boasts greater distance and performance than traditional (small computer serial interface) SCSI technology. "Fibre channel is being promoted as a storage network interface that really provides a couple of things that are required in storage networks," Steve Georgis, Director of Technology and Business Development, Boulder, Colo.-based Exabyte Corp., explains. "First and foremost is high data bandwidth. When you start networking storage, the data rates that have to be handled are very high so you have to have a very high bandwidth pipe. Fibre channel is one of several things that exists today that can do that. The second thing fibre channel can do is provide distance. A fibre channel connection today can allow you 10 kilometer interconnects and when you start talking about having interconnects between distributed applications and centralized storage all of a sudden, distance is an issue. Fibre channel solves that."

Despite great exuberance among market participants, fibre channel did not begin to take hold until last year, largely because of component stability and interoperability issues. Nevertheless, researchers at International Data Corp. believe that meaningful adoption of the technology is "imminent," and that fibre channel will capture a full 50 percent of the external open systems disk storage market by the end of 2000.

EMC, Other Vendors Launch FibreAlliance

Several key storage vendors recently took a significant step toward that fibre channel future.

On Feb. 2, EMC and 11 other storage vendors announced formation of the FibreAlliance. The goal of the FibreAlliance is to develop and implement common methods for managing heterogeneous fibre channel-based SANs. Independently, the dozen FibreAlliance vendors have been working to develop the engineering specification on which these methods will be based. Later this spring, the FibreAlliance will submit this specification to independent standards bodies for consideration as an industry-wide standard.

The vendors say this initiative will provide their customers with enhanced integration and higher functionality among fibre channel-based products, resulting in simplified management, enhanced cost effectiveness and more rapid market deployment of SANs.

The charter members of the FibreAlliance are: Ancor Communications, Emulex Corporation, Gadzoox Networks, G2 Networks, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company’s OpenView Business Unit and Enterprise Storage Solutions Division, JNI, Legato Systems, Inc., McDATA Corporation, Qlogic Corporation, Veritas Software Corporation and Vixel Corporation.

"The FibreAlliance brings together the resources of the industry’s leading providers of Fibre Channel connectivity to help customers realize the full potential of SANs," says Robert Dutkowsky, EMC’s Executive Vice President of Markets and Channels. "Members of the FibreAlliance share EMC’s commitment to accelerate customers’ ability to effectively deploy and manage this emerging technology. As EMC expands its Enterprise Storage Network (ESN) offerings, the work of the FibreAlliance will contribute significantly to the capabilities we deliver to our customers."

"The FibreAlliance is demonstrably committed to delivering open solutions to customers’ most pressing challenges for deploying storage area networks," says Michael Peterson, president of Strategic Research Corporation, a market research firm located in Santa Barbara, Calif. "By agreeing on common methods for managing SANs, committing to a delivery schedule for products that employ these methods and then promoting standardization of the specification, this innovative initiative is firmly advancing customers’ ability to realize the significant benefits SANs have to offer."

Although fibre channel is a key technology in the emerging SAN arena, it cannot be viewed as the solution in and of itself, IBM’s Harrison believes. "The very specific focus that we have from a SAN development standpoint is on an area we call managed SANs," says Harrison. "I think if you ask nine out of 10 IT managers ‘What’s a SAN?’ you’d get back a one-word answer: ‘Fiber.’ And fiber is an enabling technology, but it has nothing to do with storage area network operation, it has to do with connectivity."

IBM, which will support fibre channel, sees the need for an approach that extends beyond fibre channel technology. "If you look at this world where you have a centralized storage environment and decentralized storage requirements, you can’t exist in any type of profitable way in an environment where you have both worlds unless you have a common management approach to all of that storage," Harrison says. "You have the flexibility to have these distributed or point solutions and you have this vast repository of centralized data in the glass house, but the management software that ties that together needs to work with all of that."

It is this management element of the SAN equation that may well be a key to successful deployment of enterprise storage solutions. "If data is static, information is alive," says EMC’s Wade. "What we talk a lot about here at EMC is providing people the ability to manage, to protect and to share their enterprise information and it’s through that ability to make that information readily available to anybody, anywhere, regardless of the platform that’s requesting it or the application that created it, that’s what it’s all about."

While there is a move among some enterprise users to centralize data, that strategy may not make sense in all cases. As a result, users must be able to manage data effectively whether the storage is centralized or distributed, IBM’s Harrison believes.

"There are going to be thousands of examples of opportunities where organizations have chosen a decentralized [storage] model and want to, and need to, talk to an organization that’s chosen a centralized policy," he says. "Not only do we need to prepare technologies so that our customers can manage through the growth rates in the amount of data, but we also need to be adaptable so that they can take on the characteristics of an organization that has a completely different view than they do."

With enterprise users clamoring for more robust storage solutions, IBM also is stepping up the pace of product enhancements. Last June, the company rolled out three new storage solutions based on its Seascape Storage Enterprise Architecture: StorWatch, Versatile Storage Server and Enhanced Virtual Tape Server. The StorWatch products include enterprise storage resource management software products integrated with storage hardware. The Versatile Storage Server is a centralized, shared disk storage solution to support multiple UNIX, Windows NT and AS/400 servers and is designed to consolidate, share and centrally manage storage across mixed-server environments. The third pillar of the storage solutions launch included the IBM Enhanced Virtual Tape Server, designed to optimize tape storage resources, significantly improve performance and lower the total cost of ownership.

About the Authors:

Susan J. Aluise and Lane F. Cooper are freelance writers, specializing in technical analysis and reporting.

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