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Storage Area Networks (SANs) continue to attract IT managers as they seek to increase storage space and enhance performance. These products create independent control (called the fabric) of mass storage devices, alleviating the processing overhead on the server and offloading backup and recovery traffic. The fabric, typically using fibre channel technology, also increases the speed of storage access by creating multiple, simultaneous sessions between users and networked SANs.
All new technologies, however, go through an evolution of standards. Brocade Communications Systems, Inc. (San Jose, CA) with its Silkworm intelligent fabric enjoys a leadership position in this burgeoning market that Gartner Dataquest projects to grow to $17 billion by 2005. Brocade, founded in 1995, actively participates in multiple organizations attempting to establish a working standard for SANs. The initial standards, created and approved by the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) T11 Technical Committee, specify device level interfaces for Intelligent Peripheral Interfaces (IPI), High-Performance Parallel Interfaces (HIPPI) and Fibre Channel (FC). Although these provide a sense that products conforming to the standard will operate on a network, it does not guarantee an integrated approach. Specifications that allow fabric switches to identify other network elements, support end-to-end management of network devices, and ensure full interoperability remain under consideration.
Proof of Concept
Therefore, Brocade and other SAN vendors face a challenge. The companies must demonstrate that their products can improve performance and operate in an integrated environment. They also need to convince IT managers that they can implement SAN technology today without forcing the managers to reconfigure the existing networks. IT managers implementing a SAN want a product that will support existing network equipment and has built-in expansion capabilities. Brocade seeks to fill this void with its programs that allows independent vendors to verify that their software and hardware operates with the company's Silkworm fabric. Three programs exist:
* Fabric Aware-allows independent software and hardware vendors to develop products for the Silkworm switch and to test these products in Brocade's SAN Integration and Applications (SIA) test lab.
* Fabric Access-opens the API to applications developers to encourage the development of components that work with Brocade technology and other third-party products.
* SOLUTIONware-provides a series of technology reports that demonstrate how Brocade technologies combined with independent products can provide a solution for specific applications.
Fabric Aware and Fabric Access partners are given access to the Fabric Access Software Developer's Kit (SDK) which includes the Fabric Access API, and sample code in order to develop an integrated SAN application. IT managers also can use this API and SDK to develop or customize other applications.
Putting It to the Test
Brodcade, however, provides more than technical assistance. Independent vendors test their products and application in Brocade's SIA lab, which supports a variety of platforms and storage equipment. Brocade claims that their lab provides one of the largest and most diverse SAN fabrics available and that the testing follows models developed by the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA). Vendors and Brocade technicians work together to identify and fix problems, and the vendor pays for the time and product resources used in the SIA lab.
The SIA lab consists of several server platforms, including:
* Windows NT
* Windows 2000
* Windows XP
In addition, the SIA lab incorporates such disk configurations as RAID arrays, fibre channel disks, JBOD, tape drives, and tape libraries. The test configurations include single resilient and dual redundant fabrics with 28, 1G- and 2G-byte switches.
Once a product passes the tests in the SIA lab, the vendor is verified as a Brocade Fabric Aware partner. The vendor also agrees to cooperate with Brocade in resolving any problems that users may report.
As products emerge from the Brocade testing, the vendor can publish specific technical guidelines for implementing that SAN application. This resource, called SOLUTIONware, allows IT managers to better understand and envision how a SAN would operate within their existing environment. This can provide comfort as IT managers seek to understand how a new technology will change their network, and it helps IT managers gain a clearer estimate of the overall cost of implementing a SAN.
Brocade boasts more than 40 partners (see table) that have verified their products through the Fabric Aware and Fabric Access programs. While this impressive array of vendors includes such companies as Adaptec, Agilent, EMC, Emulex, Hewlett Packard, IBM, StorageTek, and Sun Microsystems, their inclusion in the list does not imply that each vendor's products work with all vendors' offerings. IT managers will need to consult with the SOLUTIONware listing to determine the mix of products that each vendor tested.
What started as a marketing challenge-convincing IT managers that SANs technology can operate on existing networks and incorporate products from multiple vendors-has grown to be a cornerstone of the network storage market. SNIA now supports a test lab that seems to follow the Brocade approach. SNIA members use this lab to test products in a heterogeneous environment. For example, Brocade, Compaq, Emulex, IBM, JNI, and QLogicProducts demonstrated a network designed for optimized backup operations and high availability of disk storage. The companies agreed to cooperatively support the resulting configuration, and the configuration gained the approval of SNIA's Supported Solutions Forum (SSF).
Using results from the various testing platforms, IT managers can configure network storage solutions with more confidence. The adoption of open standards for storage systems helps ensure that the equipment selected by IT managers will continue to work as the network expands.
In spite of the testing and claims of interoperability, the vendors do not guarantee results. One reason for this reluctance is the legal exposure guarantees impose on the vendor, but an equally important reason is that vendors and IT managers know that no two networks operate the same. Therefore, there is no substitute for careful planning. This is especially true for evolving technologies like SANs.
Next month we'll look at EMC's testing and qualification program.