A New Standard for Fabric Intelligence


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While the storage industry continues to debate the issue of where advanced storage services should reside, vendors of fabric switches and virtualization software are standardizing application interfaces for network-based storage applications. A project of the ANSI/INCITS T11.5 task group, the Fabric Application Interface Standard (FAIS) is a multi-vendor initiative that is defining new and more intimate relationships between the network infrastructure and storage applications.

FAIS will facilitate the migration of storage virtualization and other enhanced services from edge devices such as hosts and storage arrays to the network core. In combination with parallel efforts to enhance fabric-based quality of service and security services, the FAIS initiative represents a major step in the development of SAN technology as it evolves from simple connectivity to intelligence.

From a technical standpoint, there are compelling arguments for embedding virtualization and other services in the storage network. The network is the centerpiece of communication between servers, storage arrays, and tape devices. Since all storage conversations in a SAN are conducted through one or more fabric switches, the fabric is in a strategic position to monitor and modify those transactions.

This central and proactive role has been affirmed by established fabric-based services such as zoning, LUN masking, and third-party copy agents. FAIS extends the scope of intelligent intervention to include interfaces for more sophisticated applications such as storage pooling, mirroring, and tape virtualization.

From a market perspective, advanced storage services must find their way into the fabric for the sake of the fabric vendors themselves. Without enhanced value-added services, fabric switches are vulnerable to commoditization, as we are already witnessing in the declining prices of mid-tier departmental SAN switches. This is not a sustainable business model in the long term, and an industry nurtured on high margins cannot survive on a diet of Costco pallet-load pricing.

Although fabric-based intelligence requires significant engineering and investment, it lifts the fabric vendors from purveyors of ports to suppliers of more comprehensive SAN solutions. Even elementary virtualization services such as storage pooling have significant end-user value in terms of streamlining storage administration. By shifting the customer engagement from pricing to business value, the fabric vendors can collectively protect their margins while competing for the new market opportunity they have created.

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