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Resolution via Integration into Operating Systems?
The resolution of this anarchic state of affairs is not likely to be in the form of a gentlemen's agreement among the storage vendors and management application providers to divide up areas of SAN administration. Since SAN management has significant value to customers, every vendor instinctively competes for this business. Vendors who began their lives producing value-added hardware in the form of sophisticated storage arrays are now marketing SAN management software applications that monitor and manage other vendors' SAN products. Software, after all, commands much higher margins than hardware and offers sustained profitability even as the underlying SAN hardware components are driven toward commoditization. Common management standards will actually increase competition in this space, since standardization allows vendors to focus on value-added functionality and greater market differentiation instead of the mechanics of granular device administration.
It is more likely that the goal of a comprehensive SAN management solution will come not from traditional SAN vendors alone, but from the operating systems and applications that originally fostered the development of SANs. Microsoft, for example, is introducing APIs into Windows Server 2003 that will, under the auspices of the operating system itself, facilitate alternate pathing for failover, snapshots for backup, and storage virtualization for pooling, as well as iSCSI and iSNS device discovery in IP SAN environments.
If previously standalone SAN management applications are absorbed by the operating system, competing vendors may suffer, but customers will ultimately benefit from reduced costs and consolidated presentation. Although this is the sort of phenomenon that generates antitrust initiatives, the adaptive radiation of solutions within the SAN management market is undergoing a natural selection process that favors both centralization of functions and convenience in implementation. By analogy, no one gives much thought to printer sharing and management these days, since those functions are now seamlessly integrated into the operating system that bridges infrastructure to applications.
The inherent complexity of SANs is demanding more intelligence from the management frameworks to streamline or automate processes that currently require manual intervention. Although it is unlikely that SANs will become self-configuring and self-administrating, the integration of SAN-aware functionality into the operating system and reduction of duplication between vendor-specific utilities will make it easier for customers to deploy and support productive SAN environments without the background noise of today's SAN management dilemma.