Storage-area Networks and Windows NT

The last few months have brought a deluge of storage-area network (SAN) announcements. A recent sampling:

- Legato Systems Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif., www.legato.com) enabled its suite of enterprise backup storage management software for a SAN environment.

- Amdahl Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif., www.amdahl.com) announced an initiative to add Fibre Channel design, installation and compatibility testing to its integrated suite of SAN hardware and software.

- Enterprise storage management vendor EMC Corp. (Hopkinton, Mass., www.emc.com) bought software maker Conley Corp. (Cambridge, Mass., www.conley.com) to obtain its storage management software.

Industry participants and observers are saying that SAN technology -- which attaches storage and backup devices to multiple servers much as a LAN attaches clients to servers and, at the same time, keeps bandwidth-intensive storage traffic off the LAN -- is getting a boost from all the vendors trying to bring the pieces together. "There are well over 100 vendors active in the field," says Michael Peterson, president of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA, Mountain View, Calif., www.snia.org). "On one side of the coin, they’re all out making noise, promoting their cause. On the other hand, the applications for SAN implementation continue to grow."

Many of the recent announcements involve Windows NT as a supported platform in a heterogeneous SAN environment. Legato’s conversion of its products to support SAN includes its storage management solution, NetWorker, which is available on Windows NT, and its device-managing product, SmartMedia, which is expected to support Windows NT in the fourth quarter of this year, says Scott McIntyre, Legato’s SAN business manager. Amdahl’s initiative complements its Integrated Information Suite, which works on MVS, Unix and Windows NT platforms. By purchasing Conley, EMC obtained the EMC PowerPath software it codeveloped with Conley. PowerPath provides load-balancing and path-failover capability for Windows NT and Unix.

In Peterson’s view, Windows NT is not at the center of SAN development because few enterprises are keeping large enough databases on Windows NT to justify a SAN. "NT is entering the SAN market through vertical [markets], not through mainstream computing," Peterson says. "The SAN is being attached to a serverless environment of high-performance workstations." Windows NT is getting the heaviest use in combination with SAN in the vertical markets of video production, such as television commercials, and prepress, such as preparing advertisements for magazines, Peterson says. The operating system is also being used in clustered configurations and in consolidating storage of Unix and Windows NT data, Peterson says.

That’s not to say that IT managers with a focus on Windows NT need not pay close attention to SAN developments. "The storage is becoming more and more OS-independent," Peterson says. "Any development in the field will have implications for NT down the road."

SAN implementations currently in use in heterogeneous environments tend to be very basic, nothing like the ideal of hundreds of servers accessing a cluster of storage systems in the data center, says Doug Fierro, EMC marketing manager. Some current uses for SAN include customers setting up point-to-point Fibre Channel connection between distributed servers, or customers that have integrated two or three servers, a Fibre Channel connection and a hub into a single storage system, Fierro says.

SNIA’s Peterson says many of the working products at this point are offered as complete systems from IBM Corp., EMC and others. The next step is to work toward the interoperability that will allow buyers to mix and match components, he says.

"You can take advantage of some of this functionality today," says Legato’s McIntyre. "We’ll be able to exploit the capabilities of SANs in the future as the technology matures."