Book Review – Building Storage Networks, 2nd Edition

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Building Storage Networks (2nd Ed) by Marc Farley is nothing if not complete. At almost 600 pages it has the capacity to deliver a wide reaching range of material on storage network which it duly does.

Farley, who also wrote the first edition of the book, makes it clear in the introduction that much has changed both in the storage industry, and since the book’s first edition. He also explains that while he has included information about emerging technologies such as Infiniband, there is plenty that can change as these nascent technologies develop. Farley is to be commended in this respect, as it would have been easy for him to skimp on coverage of such topics. Instead, he has obviously expended a good deal of time and effort in researching new technologies and including the information in the book.

The seventeen (yes, that’s one seven) chapters of the book take the reader on a progressive journey through almost every aspect of networked storage. There are five sections within the book which follow a natural progression – Introduction to Network Storage, Fundamental Storing Applications, The Storage Channel Becomes a Network, Wiring Technologies and Filing, Internet Storage, and Management.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book is the sheer detail used to explain the underlying principles of network storage before progressing to the more common coverage of SAN’s, NAS and Fibre Channel. In fact, by the time the detailed discussion on SAN’s and NAS is reached, the reader will have already covered RAID, caching, backup, I/O channels, mirroring and replication, and network backup. Detailed coverage on SANs doesn’t start until page 257 by which time the reader is in a strong position to better understand why SAN’s are used and of the underlying technologies.

In the middle of the book, an 8 page ‘blueprint’ section runs down, in graphical form, some of the ‘Typical Implementations of Filing, Storing, and Wiring in Host Systems and Storage Subsystems.’ Figures abound throughout the book and do an excellent job of reinforcing the principles described in the text. A large number of them make use of flow-chart type shapes whereas others, when appropriate, use representations of servers, hubs and other network storage paraphernalia.

One slightly odd inclusion is that of exercises at the end of each section, which incite the reader to perform tasks like “Diagram the complete process and I/O path used in retrieving data from virtual memory on disk.” While such an exercise might be a good reinforcement of the information presented in the chapter, these tasks seem more suited to a certification study guide than a reference book.

If there is one area where the book could be criticized, it would have to be that it is written in a very ‘text book’ style which leaves little room for the authors personality to shine through. You get the feeling that some of the terseness is a result of him trying to fit too much in (or rather he couldn’t decide what to leave out). Also, but to a lesser extent, is that you get the feeling that some things could be left out (a discussion of tape rotations in a book that will most probably be read by people who are already server administrators), and some that should have been included (such as a discussion of tape formats). The latter may have been omitted partly to make the book less time sensitive, but it only serves to reinforce the text-book style.

There is no glossary, which is unusual for a technical book and it would have been nice to see a comprehensive listing of storage terms, particularly as the book is pitched at those learning the industry and related technologies. In fact, there are no appendices at all which leads you to believe that the publisher may have handed down a ‘no more than 600 pages edict’ that the author may have had problems squeezing into. Again, this may further explain the omission or light coverage on certain topics and the inclusion of others.

All these, though, are minor detractions which do not devalue the book as whole, making Building Storage Networks hard to beat at a cover price of $50. More than that, with some online booksellers cutting up to 30% off, it becomes almost a must have for anyone in the formative years of their network storage learning. Both the breadth and the depth of the book are excellent, and if you can accept the fact that it’s unlikely you will be reading the book from cover to cover in sequence, you will have yourself one of the best technical references available on storage networking.

Book Reviewed :

Building Storage Networks, Second Edition
By Marc Farley, Published by Osborne McGraw Hill.
ISBN 0072130725

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