Let The SAN Shine In: SANs That RAID-iate Benefits

Local Area Networks (LANs) are typically made up of short-distance user grouping with modular efficiency. A Storage Area Netowrk (SAN) can allow these groupings to access a common sphere of storage that serves all users as specifically and as immediately as needed. For example, you can extend the benefits of RAID technology.

7:45 am Eight hundred and seventy three employees fill coffee mugs, boot up PCs and begin accessing e-mail. Three Windows NT servers and two UNIX servers dish up approximately 42 new messages to each address. Staff members begin responding and attaching documents to each reply.

8:08 am The sales department begins processing online orders, making electronic funds transfers and transmitting work orders for fulfillment. The marketing staff begins searching the Internet for competitive information, charting trends and creating competitive analyses. Press releases and corporate communications documents are distributed online to employees, press, analysts and investors worldwide. Graphic designers begin transferring files to and from an ftp site, Web masters begin updating e-files, outside sales people reach into the LAN for current presentations, accountants begin running reports and payroll queues up a check run.

8:45 am An e-mail blast is sent to 4,700 potential customers. Documents are printing to more than 30 different printers. (Note to the IT Manager: 16% of your employees are playing graphic intensive games or visiting other sites.) Various files are transmitted and new vendor files are being set up. Purchase requisitions are submitted online and routed for electronic approval, expense reports are entered, budget proposals are calculated, spreadsheets, presentations, and newsletters are pulled from the storage archive.

4:58 pm Eight hundred and twenty-six employees log off of their Local Area Networks. Remaining employees push the system for some last minute data, send out group e-mails, set up calendars and write proposals.

6:00 pm While employees crawl along in traffic, the enterprise begins automatic maintenance functions. Terabytes upon terabytes of today's vital data is stored, protected and organized for easy access. Electronic orders from around the world increase and data storage is accessed without interruption (7 employees are still playing games on-line).

7:13 pm The sun sets, the commute ends and the SAN keeps your network operational, providing 24x7 access and reliability.

Fast, efficient data access is what makes the business world go 'round. But, this exponentially increasing demand is becoming unmanageable and unaffordable for some businesses. On the horizon, however, a reverse in storage management strategy and SAN technology offers companies many new options. The SAN is a LAN-like network made up of RAID arrays, tape drives and libraries, optical drives and libraries, and storage management software that centrally manages storage capacity and takes on various related I/O processing functions. A SAN links all of the servers and clients on a LAN or on multiple LANs to centralized storage.

A SAN can be designed without any single point of failure. With proper structuring, even platform issues, file formats and other incompatibilities can be overcome and the ability to share various types of data is greatly expanded. This results in 100% uptime, lower costs and a more manageable operation. With the arrival of Fibre Channel and the needed cables and connectors, distance and speed options are dramatically improved as well. Fibre Channel provides an ideal pipeline for a SAN, providing better scalability and higher performance than is available through traditional storage connection options.

A SAN takes the load off of the LANs it serves, assuming backup operations and freeing up bandwidth. It allows IT professionals to take a LAN server down while maintaining access to all stored data, because the files on a SAN can be accessed from any server. A SAN protects data assets by storing them centrally and yet providing high-end configuration options to map out individual access as needed. Companies can now completely customize local and/or extended networks, incrementally adding storage to the SAN as needed. Flexibility is at an all time high.

However, RAID systems and SANs go together like Microsoft and Intel. They are so interdependent that many SANs are actually built around their RAID units. Using any one or a combination of the available levels of RAID with a SAN improves performance and data security. RAID systems provide highly expandable, reliable, redundant storage capacity. RAID controllers move and store data according to the preferences and priorities established.

A SAN properly configured with RAID has numerous benefits. In fact, RAID is fast becoming the preferred way to deploy storage on a SAN, being far more economical than having separate, dedicated storage systems. The time-intensive management of an enterprise often represents the highest portion of overall storage costs. Linking storage within a SAN and managing it with RAID will further contribute to higher productivity and lower costs.

A SAN extends the many benefits of RAID to users throughout the enterprise. This means that the fault-tolerance, high-performance and ease-of-use features that RAID controllers provide are enjoyed by each user, regardless of their actual location in the enterprise. One of the SANĂ•s main advantages is the ability to retain high throughput at a distance of up to 10 kilometers from users. This reach comes in handy when distant groups require access to the same secured data and when sending data to remote archiving systems.

A new kind of RAID controller, designed specifically for SAN configurations, has started to reach the marketplace. These RAID controllers with Fibre host and disk interfaces are SAN-ready. They provide high-end data integrity, accessibility and security. They scale to hundreds of MB/s and they connect terabytes upon terabytes of data. What more could you ask for?

- Suzanne S. Eaton is Sr. Marcom Manager for Mylex Corp.