A New Standard for Fabric Intelligence Page 3


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Potential Benefits and Complications with FAIS

The potential benefits from FAIS standardization are immense. Aside from simple storage pooling, enhanced capabilities such as data replication between heterogeneous storage systems, snapshots, data journaling, and virtualization of tape assets will enable customers to focus on applications instead of on the infrastructure.

A standard fabric API also facilitates distributed services across multiple fabric switches and concurrent support of multiple storage applications on a common SAN. The traditional value proposition of SANs in terms of cost savings from storage consolidation and streamlined operations are thus further amplified by fabric-based virtualization services that free customers from low-level plumbing concerns.

Execution of FAIS in real products, however, will inevitably unearth new fabric issues. Large Fibre Channel fabrics, for example, are already vulnerable to excessive switch-to-switch chatter, state change notification broadcasts, and occasional fabric reconfigurations. The additional load that FAIS-enabled virtualization and other services place on fabric communications must be minimized to maintain proper operation and stability of the fabric. Along with overall performance, this is an area where vendors, while cooperating on standard APIs, will differentiate their products and compete in the market.

In addition, abstraction of a complex storage infrastructure does not eliminate complexity; rather, it only hides complexity from the user. If intelligent fabric switches are going to assume responsibility for heterogeneous storage management and control, they must also assume responsibility for what goes wrong on the back end. The FAIS initiative will establish the common interface to fabric-based services, but vendors must ensure that those services are robust, diagnostic, and proactive to properly support the customers application requirements.

Tom Clark
SAN Evangelist, McDATA Corporation
Author: Designing Storage Area Networks Second Edition (2003) (available at Amazon.com), IP SANs (2002) (also available at Amazon.com).

» See All Articles by Columnist Tom Clark

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