Dumb and Dumber Switches? Page 3


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Continued from Page 2

Simplicity (of Operation) and Complexity Coexisting in Harmony?

The inherent complexity of fabric switches does not automatically solicit even more intelligence in the form of storage management or virtualization. Fabric-based intelligence is, however, a fact of life that cannot be wished away in hopes of making SANs as simple as LANs. The processing power required for fabric services and inter-switch communications has already been expanded to include additional storage features such as zoning, LUN-masking, and third-party copy.

The assumption of additional value-added services by the fabric such as storage pooling, heterogeneous data replication, and snapshots is just a matter of engineering investment and time. While this adds significant complexity to the design and management of fabric switches, the real problem is not the application of intelligence to switches, but the intelligent application of advanced features to switches. More intelligence is needed in the design, implementation, and automation of storage processes in the fabric so that smart switches truly off-load tedious tasks from the user.

The valid core of Jacob’s argument is that fabric switches should be simple to operate. As in the evolution of all computer technology, however, simplifying operations does not mean that complexity goes away. It just means that the complexity behind the scenes is hidden from the end user, thanks to heaping helpings of intelligence that have been applied to the underlying architecture and product design.

A graphical interface, by analogy, greatly simplifies otherwise laborious command-line instructions. Implementing a GUI adds complexity to the operating system and applications, but that underlying intelligence is transparent to the operator doing the clicking and dragging.

The challenge for fabric switch vendors who embed more and more intelligence in their products is to simplify and streamline the user interface, automate management tasks, and provide proactive monitoring and diagnostics to automatically correct impending problems. Smart design will drive truly useful smart switches into the market, and preempt the Luddite backlash that will inevitably occur if insufficient intelligence is applied.

Tom Clark
Director, Solutions and Technologies, 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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