Book Review - Storage Area Network Fundamentals


At just 300 pages and a price tag of $50, Storage Area Network Fundamentals sounds more like a technical reference than an introductory technology title - and it is. Where other books try and ease the reader into the technicalities of storage networking, the recently published SAN Fundamentals takes a more direct approach.

That's not to say SAN Fundamentals is not readable - far from it. Just that it is intended to, and does, deliver a focused and technical introduction to the world of Storage Area Networking.

As the title suggests, the book's main goal is to educate about Storage Area Networks. This is in contrast with some of the other introductory titles which tackle the issue of network storage from a more holistic viewpoint and include Network Attached Storage as a topic. There is a brief comparison of NAS and SANs, but aside from this basic coverage there is nary a NAS reference in sight.

The book starts out at a comfortable pace with a chapter on Networking and Storage Concepts. As well as addressing the fundamentals of networking generally, the chapter gives a hint of what is to come with a section discussing the need for storage networks, the aforementioned NAS and SAN comparison and a brief discussion of some of the organizations responsible for defining SAN standards. Chapter 2, Introduction to Storage Area Networks is a short chapter which discusses the evolution of SANs and provides a brief overview of the components which make up a SAN.

Then the gloves come off.

As you would expect from a book on SAN Fundamentals, the coverage of Fibre Channel is extensive and thorough. In fact, a full three chapters - Fibre Channel Basics, Fibre Channel Products and Fibre Channel Cabling - take the reader inside the world of fibre channel with detailed explanations of everything FC related including devices and cables. The technical level of content presented in these chapters will be useful to all except those who have worked with FC for some time. Even then, the information provided is good enough to be an oft referred to reference.

Although the Fibre Channel Products chapter discusses the general devices used in SAN's, it does so by referring to specific Cisco devices. This may not be to some people's liking, but it really doesn't detract from the material in the book, and provides a specific reference point for readers to log on to the Cisco Website and read up on the characteristics and real-world applications of SAN devices.

A short chapter on securing a SAN provides information on security from both a hardware and software perspective. This is perhaps the only chapter of the book where it seemed that more information could have been provided. There are also excellent chapters on SAN topologies, designing and building SANs, and problem isolation and management.

A chapter on iSCSI offers a comprehensive coverage of the topic - certainly enough for anyone interested in learning the fundamentals. As well as acknowledging that iSCSI has its place in the SAN environment, it goes on to explain why iSCSI is needed and, at a moderately technical level, how it works. There is also a detailed Design Considerations and Security Requirements table which provides a interesting insight into the 'why's' of iSCSI.

The book finishes off with a look at what the future holds for SANs, including overviews of technologies such as DWDM, SoIP and Infiniband. As with the rest of the book, the information is grounded in the here and now, and details the emerging technologies that are in the process of establishing themselves as opposed to being futureware.

The book is healthily populated with excellent and detailed diagrams. In addition to the diagrams there are a small number of black and white photographs that show (Cisco, of course) storage networking equipment. While it is nice to see what products actually look like, the photos are taken from sufficiently far away as to make it impossible to discern any detail on the devices. As such they are of limited value.

A limited glossary includes brief descriptions of commonly used storage terms. Although it would be nicer to have a more comprehensive glossary, it is nice to see that Cisco does not use the 'one glossary fits all' approach adopted by some other technical book publishers. The book has only one appendix, the oddly named Raid Technology and Fibre Channel Vendors. Quite how the two are related enough to be included in the same appendix is unclear, though it does not devalue the content of the information provided which in both cases is excellent.

The author's style throughout the book is factual and to the point, which is fine for this type of publication. There is little to cause you to question the knowledge or understanding of the topic displayed by the author or the technical reviewers.

While SAN Fundamentals is not cheap, people who use their reference material on a regular basis will appreciate the hard cover - an unusual feature for a book of this size. Those hoping for a discount off the cover price from an online bookseller will have to look long and hard however - none of the bookseller sites we checked were offering a discount.

Cisco Press books have always been about a no-nonsense 'just the facts' approach and SAN Fundamentals is no exception. In simple terms, it is what you would expect a SAN fundamentals book from Cisco to be - high quality, easy to read, up to date and laden with facts.

Book Reviewed :

Storage Area Network Fundamentals
By Meeta Gupta, Published by Cisco Press.
ISBN 158705065X


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