Making Fibre Channel SMB-FriendlyAfter years of making Fibre Channel technology more and more complicated for enterprise storage administrators who wanted to be able to tweak everything, the storage industry finds itself going in the opposite direction as it begins to push Fibre Channel for small and medium businesses (SMBs).
With the enterprise market saturated, SMBs have become a major focus for Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) vendors looking for new growth markets, with sub-$10,000 SAN offerings appearing in recent months from vendors such as Dell/EMC and HP.
The Yankee Group predicts that the ability to penetrate the SMB market will be key if the storage networking market is to meet the group's forecast for double-digit growth over the next several years.
"We expect the storage networking market to grow appreciably in the next several years before it levels off sometime in 2007 or 2008," says Stephanie Balaouras, the Yankee Group's senior analyst for enterprise computing and networking. "Key to this growth is the ability to penetrate into the untapped small and medium enterprise markets. This will require prices for Fibre Channel SAN components to continue to drop and vendors of these components as well as storage and storage management vendors to work together to reduce the complexity of Fibre Channel deployment and management."
A Look At An SMB SAN Product
Vendors say they are doing their part to make Fibre Channel SANs SMB-friendly.
Enterprise Storage Forum caught up with Emulex Product Management Director Mike Kane recently for a demonstration of Emulex's new LP101 host bus adapter, one of two HBAs offered as part of the new Dell/EMC AX100.
"A lot of time and effort went into this," Kane says. "It's not just an exercise in meeting price points, but to make them have a good experience."
The goal, he says, was to "take as much complexity out of it as we can." The product was designed for the "generalist without a lot of support."
The company appears to have succeeded. The Emulex LP101 HBA is as easy to install and use as most Windows programs. Just pop in the installation CD, and in about five screens, you're up and running.
The "AutoPilot" installer searches for driver locations, finds the right firmware and software, and downloads it.
The AutoPilot manager "leaves out complex configurations and tweaks," Kane says. "The SMB users typically just want to install it, and if it works, great."
Hosts, storage and LUNs are visible on the screen. Mapping and binding occurs automatically. About the only maintenance required is to update the firmware.
About the only time an IT administrator would have to do more than basic management would be for clustered storage, but Kane says that's just a "tiny piece of the SMB market."
Kane says the entire AX100 is "pretty nicely done," and he has kind words for HP's MSA line too.
Despite competition from iSCSI and IP storage, Kane thinks Fibre Channel has a good chance of winning over SMBs. The technology is already well established in data centers, he says, and with easier management and installation, "there's really no difference to users between Fibre Channel and IP-based storage."