SANs Seek Adoption by SMBs


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The high cost of SAN-attached storage, switches, and HBAs has been a barrier to entry for many medium and small companies. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have the same basic requirements for data availability, performance, and safeguarding of data that large enterprises have secured via SAN technology, but they often lack the budget or expertise (or both) to implement enterprise-class SANs. Consequently, these companies continue to spontaneously accumulate additional servers and direct-attached storage to meet their growing data needs and eventually pay a penalty in terms of higher administrative overhead and inefficient storage utilization.

The cycle of reactive acquisition of direct-attached storage (DAS) and servers to front-end it, followed by increased cost for administration, is being broken by the introduction of new, lower cost SAN technologies. These include often over-hyped technologies such as iSCSI , but also include new classes of economical storage arrays and cost-reduced Fibre Channel and IP storage switch products.

The availability of lower cost, shared storage solutions is further validation of the maturity of SAN technology. Nurtured in the relative affluence of large data center budgets over the past decade, SAN solutions are now poised to penetrate the vast middle market and eventually displace direct-attached storage. Lower costs and familiarity with the basic value proposition of SANs will encourage further adoption, which in turn will facilitate even lower costs over time.

Where Information Lives More Economically

Traditional storage solutions providers such as EMC and HDS are reaching out to the SMB market with smaller disk arrays that enable modular growth and combine economy with some enterprise-class storage functionality. The EMC CLARiiON series solutions, for example, offer advanced options such as disk-to-disk (D2D) data replication and data copy, as well as the ability to scale to large capacities. Resold through Dell, CLARiiON storage is often bundled with servers and a SAN switch to provide a preconfigured SAN solution to streamline deployment.

Likewise, the HDS 9500 series modular storage arrays enable mid-tier customers to incrementally grow their storage capacity over time. Optional storage virtualization software can further simplify storage allocation and management.

Although large enterprises may also benefit from the economy of these smaller solutions, it is unlikely that low-cost storage systems will pose a threat to more expensive, high-end systems. Data centers still require the higher availability, performance, and self-diagnostic (e.g., phone home) capabilities of more expensive arrays for mission-critical applications.

Low-cost SAN storage is also being introduced by a number of start-ups. To avoid competing in the already crowded enterprise storage market, these new vendors are focusing on the as yet untapped broad middle market and are porting sophisticated SAN features to more affordable storage platforms. By using Serial ATA (SATA) or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disks for back-end storage and efficient disk controllers that interface to iSCSI or Fibre Channel, these solutions are putting “inexpensive” back into the original definition of RAID (which, in the pursuit of margins, was changed to redundant array of “independent” disks).

A new storage player, Compellent, has gone a step further by separating the storage controller engine from both outbound interfaces and back-end storage. This offers the flexibility to use iSCSI, Fibre Channel, or any future transport protocol for external access, and leverage traditional SCSI, Fibre Channel, SATA, or SAS disks. Integrated storage virtualization also makes it possible to economically implement information lifecycle management (ILM) by creating different classes of storage under automated, policy-based data management.

Other start-up companies such as StoneFly Networks are focusing on IP SAN technology under the banner of SANs for the masses. With the ability to integrate a customer’s existing SCSI storage assets with an iSCSI front end, and layer in basic storage virtualization for storage pooling and replication, these solutions are applying the state of the art of SAN technology to low-cost platforms that even small companies and departments can afford. While large enterprises have funded the technical evolution of SANs, the resulting benefits can now be shared by all companies, regardless of size.

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