If there's one thing storage users want, it's simplicity.
Demand for greater simplicity, both in solutions and in the processes enterprise storage users follow, was a common theme at last week's Storage Networking World conference in Orlando, Fla. Storage professionals wrestling with storage management, consolidation, personnel issues and new technology described a need to reduce complexity, while storage vendors responded with strategies to streamline data operations and integrate IT and other departments to advance business goals.
Yahoo's Marcellus Tabor said his company was looking to reduce backup windows, accelerate restore times and improve efficiencies in its data protection environment, advancing and discarding several solutions before finally settling on a tape consolidation system.
Matt Pittman from Penson Financial Services, a 750-user financial services firm in Dallas, wanted greater data availability and flexibility, searching for a system that reduced cost and offered ease of implementation, maintenance and use.
Tabor, Pittman and other storage professionals told how they looked to storage area networks (SANs) to deliver some relief from data management and operations issues. Penson Financial's SAN helped meet backup and restore challenges, and offered resiliency and better positioning to win business for the firm.
With interest in SAN technologies and configurations on an uptick from previous conferences, Tom Hammond-Doel, chair of the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) marketing committee, cited simplicity as an important element driving SAN market growth. "Fibre Channel's reputation has always been highest performance and maximum flexibility," he said, "and with three connection types and a new roadmap for each, we are confident that the industry will reach the Gartner estimated $16 billion market by 2010."
Hammond-Doel expressed concern that the very nature of technological advancement could cause confusion in what to implement and when. To help, he said FCIA is "driving new Fibre Channel standards for protocols, application programming interfaces and management to make Fibre Channel easier, more secure and acceptable to more business users."
Small to medium businesses and departments and remote sites within the enterprise, particularly in the financial and insurance communities, have the need for a local SAN but no expertise to manage it, said Hammond-Doel. This is corroborated by results from the 2006 SNIA End User Council survey (www.snia.org/euc) that found survey respondents' top causes of disruption were mis-configurations of SANs and human error.
To meet the challenge, the FC-SCM (Simplified Configuration and Management) initiative has been launched to move Fibre Channel into new markets that have not integrated SANs into their IT environments and minimize the possibility of human error with plug and play installation and maintenance.
According to Steve Wilson, SNIA Technical Council member and director of technology at Brocade, the FC-SCM initiative "offers the benefit of simplicity to the enterprise. Users can easily configure and connect the remote SAN into an enterprise SAN at one point without changing the main SAN or affecting its capability levels."
The FC-SCM initiative is currently in the requirements phase, and Hammond-Doel urged storage managers to work through their storage suppliers and give feedback on the initiative framework, found at www.fibrechannel.org.
Wilson and Hammond-Doel see a FCIA and SNIA collaboration as a catalyst for working groups to advance technologies that simplify SAN use. "While SCM products are still on the horizon," said Wilson, "it is already affecting the mindset of customers witness the popularity of a hands-on lab about SANs here at SNW. We need to make it desirable and beneficial to implement a SAN and simplicity is the key to make that work."
Indeed, simple, step-by-step instructions and introductions to storage technology was the mantra of hands-on labs at Storage Networking World. Guided by members of the SNIA End User Council and Education Committee, more than 400 seats were filled with IT professionals learning how to configure, troubleshoot and monitor SANs, as well as learn about IP storage, storage virtualization, data management and storage management.
"Our unique approach of going from 'zero to SAN' in an hour and a half gave these storage and network managers the ability to completely configure a SAN from scratch, and be introduced to SAN technology from Cisco, Emulex, HP, Microsoft, NetApp and Sun," said theme lead Elaine Silber, technical trainer at Firefly Communications. "We had hands-on lab students from small to large enterprises in every industry classification, and each found actually connecting hosts to switches, storage to switches, hosts to storage, and switches to switches gave them the confidence to consider introducing a SAN into their direct attach environment, or to put a SAN into remote offices."
Integrating remote and branch offices into the larger corporate structure and introducing SANs to small-medium enterprises was also a focus of companies like Microsoft and HP, which demonstrated HP's All-in-One storage system to consolidate storage on a networked box. Easier storage management based on consolidation was also a theme of talks on IP storage, including one which illustrated how an automotive dealership's IP SAN achieved 100 percent data availability and relief from a difficult to manage infrastructure.
Enterprise groups also need to integrate and understand their various infrastructures, according to storage and records managers in a SNIA End User Council/ARMA panel, and to discover common ground and gain understanding of each other's challenges and goals. Even though records managers are obviously interested in information in records and its management over the life of the document, they often don't come into contact with storage managers, who hold the keys to equipment that help in the management.
The panel found records managers from Darden Restaurants and Northrop agreeing with storage managers from Hewitt Associates and Nielsen Media that collaboration is key. Both Hewitt's Wendy Betts (SNIA EUC) and Darden's Jenny Jolinski (ARMA) have already initiated relationships with their respective counterparts, leading to better understanding of each other's roles, and working together to simplify and strengthen the way information and its storage is handled.
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