In the past, companies kept pace with the enormous rate of storage growth management and infrastructure complexity by simply adding more capacity. Recently, though, as budgets have been reduced, IT managers have been asked to defer purchases and do more with fewer resources. At the same time, despite these constraints on IT resources, ever-higher levels of services are in demand and increasingly shorter backup and restore windows are needed, as application availability remains a top priority for companies. All of this is occurring even as the amount of data requiring backup continues to grow ever larger.
Advanced Storage Area Networks (SANs) provide one of the best approaches for addressing the explosion of data and its management. SANs help enable storage consolidation and deliver higher availability of critical enterprise data and applications. Furthermore, SANs facilitate improved storage resource utilization and more effective storage management.
SAN Components and Architecture
The primary driver in the rapid adoption of SANs has been consolidation, which increases utilization of storage and the management of storage growth at reasonable costs. Typical examples of storage applications driving the use of SANs include file sharing, LAN-free and serverless backup, and n-way clustering.
Effective SAN solutions should provide fail-safe disaster recovery processes, reliable storage and server building blocks, automated management via policy-based solutions, data protection software that scales with the storage network, and the ability to manage heterogeneous environments. The various components needed for a complete storage solution include:
- Data Services: Tools for availability, backup, and recovery processes
- Infrastructure: Host bus adapters (HBAs), directors, switches, and software for element management
- Management software: For managing the overall storage environment and for controlling the infrastructure
- Practices: Services for the initial assessment, implementation, and remote support of the storage environment
- Servers: From the workgroup to the enterprise, providing the computer applications and database resources necessary to drive the data
- Storage Products: The arrays and tape libraries for housing the data
Network and Automated SAN Management: Storage beyond the Box
Today's IT challenges are a direct result of attempts to solve real business problems. The adoption rate of SANs for addressing these challenges has never been greater than it is right now, but even though SANs have proven to be excellent vehicles for addressing these challenges, some implementation and infrastructure issues remain.
Larger, more complex SANs demand tested, certified, turnkey solutions. Historically, in order to create a SAN solution, customers have had to go to multiple vendors to obtain the various components necessary. When integrated into the customer's SAN, these components have not always worked seamlessly together and have not always been tested for compatibility by the various vendors.
In addition, many customers in the process of trying to overlay storage solutions on top of existing legacy environments of servers, storage, and other components are tasked with integrating SAN solutions where the implementation and management of the SAN can be made very challenging by the complexity of existing environments.
Furthermore, customers are often attempting to solve more than just their immediate storage needs when they implement SANs. They may have other requirements, such as providing a data continuance solution or trying to facilitate consolidation. A customer's new SAN needs to address current storage needs as well as meet anticipated requirements for the future. All of these situations clearly illustrate the need for complete SAN solutions that are integrated, tested, and certified in order to ensure interoperability with existing environments.
Categories of Key SAN Solutions
Some of the major issues facing IT organizations today are data availability, reliability, scalability, performance, and management. While addressing data availability and disaster recovery, companies are also concerned with maximizing their storage investments, and they want to do so while meeting definable Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) or return on investment (ROI) goals.
At the same time, IT staffs are focused on the more mundane -- but no less important -- goals of addressing the technical demands that result from the proliferation of mission critical data operations. Such operations are those created by Internet-focused business operations and data-intensive computing environments. SANs are now being utilized to address a wide variety of IT challenges, including:
- Data Continuance
- High-performance computing (HPC)
- Mission critical computing
Consolidation through a SAN involves creating and sharing among heterogeneous hosts a pool of storage resources that includes switches, arrays, tape libraries, and other storage assets. While improving scalability, availability, and data accessibility, this model also enhances efficiency and reduces management complexity. Also, while simultaneously cutting costs and waste, consolidation solutions help businesses increase efficiency in managing and protecting data.
By combining data from many servers onto extremely available, scalable, and centralized storage systems, consolidation helps companies cut the complexity of their storage environments while boosting the performance and data accessibility end users experience. At the same time, environment costs and floor space are reduced, and service levels can be enhanced.
The cost of proper planning is not extremely expensive, while the cost of even brief business interruptions can be. By delivering continuous application availability and data accessibility, a data continuance environment provides a means of achieving uninterrupted operations (for business continuity as well as disaster recovery). Based on business value, data continuance solutions enable administrators to start with a thorough classification of applications and data.
The software can assist in identifying critical data assets (databases, applications, and associated file systems) and reporting on their relationships to the storage resources that support them. As a result, in order to meet necessary uptime requirements and application service levels, these solutions provide systems and storage managers with capacity, database, and file-level information that can be optimally managed.
High Performance Computing
High Performance Computing (HPC) is one solution segment that is at the forefront in driving the rapid adoption of SAN solutions. HPC requirements such as high availability data movement and management are now just as important as performance and scalability.
Resource-intensive HPC requires the storage to provide extremely fast, high volume data movement under heavy workloads and also necessitates the ability to share data at high speeds with very low latency among multiple computers, and with minimal disruption of service. To support data-intensive relational databases, data mining, and complex scientific applications, these requirements point to the need for a common, easy-to-use storage platform that can deliver extreme levels of performance and scalability.
Mission Critical Computing
Finally, SAN infrastructure is increasingly being utilized to meet the extreme levels of availability, performance, and connectivity, all as a result of its inherent resiliency, reliability, and performance. This is also required by high-end data centers where mission critical applications and data are deployed and managed.
Summary and Conclusions
Numerous market forces and cost-cutting trends have taken a heavy toll on the aility of IT staffs to keep pace with the explosive rate of storage growth management and infrastructure complexity. In addition to the proliferation of databases and unstructured data (such as multimedia and attachments), this storage growth has also arisen from increased reliance on the Internet to conduct mission critical e-commerce.
In order to reign in storage costs, improve data protection, and simplify storage management, customers in every industry have been seeking solutions that maximize efficiency in managing and protecting data while simultaneously cutting costs and waste. The adoption rate of SANs for addressing these challenges has never been greater than it is right now, and despite several issues for improvement in the sector, SANs have proven to be excellent vehicles for solving these challenges.
John Vacca is an information technology consultant and internationally known author based in Pomeroy, Ohio. Since 1982, John has authored 39 books and more than 485 articles in the areas of advanced storage, computer security and aerospace technology. John was also a configuration management specialist, computer specialist, and the computer security official for NASA's space station program (Freedom) and the International Space Station Program, from 1988 until his early retirement from NASA in 1995. John was also one of the security consultants for the MGM movie titled : "AntiTrust," which was released on January 12, 2001. John can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.