Imation Introduces Indie SAN Labs

Interoperability and vendor confidence are proving to the millstone around SAN technologies’ neck, but a new testing center in Minnesota could help obviate these issues. Imation Corp. (www.imation.com) has opened a SAN interoperability and demonstration center.

"It gives our customers any-to-any interoperability testing," says Bill Pledzus, technology manager and storage architect at Imation. Because SAN standard are still evolving, there is no assurance that products from any vendor will work with products from any other vendor, creating a situation where products need to be tested before they are deployed.

SAN vendors such as EMC Corp. (www.emc.com), Compaq Computer Corp. (www.compaq.com), and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) already have demonstration and testing sites, but it could be argued that these site are showcases for the vendors’ slate of SAN offerings and solutions. By contrast, Imation, which does not sell or market any SAN products, only offers consulting services for enterprise storage. "This is the only real independent SAN lab," says Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group (www.enterprisestoragegroup.com).

"We take this independent and unbiased perspective very seriously," says Kosta Hasapopoulos, general manager of software solutions at Imation. Independence is the niche that Imation pursues within the SAN market.

Duplessie also believes that aside from a lack of vendor loyalty, the Imation lab does not have the same restrictive environments as the other labs. "IBM is not going to be able to recreate the customer’s environment," he says. While the Imation lab is still a lab, it is closer to a real-world setting.

Since Imation is not explicitly a SAN vendor, its representatives have little incentive to push a SAN solution. The firm's Storage Assessment Services takes a holistic approach to enterprise storage, helping customer determine which storage strategy fits the business the best. If SANs are inappropriate for a business, Imation will give its honest opinion. "We want to ensure that our customers get as much information as possible," Pledzus says.

If a customer feels that a SAN is appropriate for the operating environment, they are referred to the SAN solutions lab, where a variety of configurations can be evaluated.

A second customer base for the SAN lab may lie in referrals from SAN vendors. "We’ve had several OEMs in the lab," Hasapopoulos says. If a customer lacks confidence in a solution from, say, Compaq, they can approach Imation to use the lab to test the solution outside of Compaq's controlled environment.

Although Imation has little self-interest in pushing SAN adoption, Duplessie believes an independent SAN testing facility could catalyze SAN adoption. "The number one overriding issue with SAN adoption is interoperability," he says. Giving administrators faith that a solution will work could alleviate some of the interoperability fears.

"The interoperability issues will continue to be a problem for the next several years," Hasapopoulos says. As long there is no comprehensive any-to-any interoperability, and new standards such as Gigabit Ethernet lie on the horizon, there will be interest in independent facilities.

Despite the current problems Hasapopoulos sees with SAN technologies, he has faith in the solution. "We believe in SAN technology; that it’s the right answer for a lot of people," he says.