An initiative aimed at bringing the cost of storage area networks (SANs) down into the range of small and medium-sized businesses is beginning to gather steam. In recent weeks a number of vendors have introduced new products or reconfigured existing products to bring them within the targeted $50,000 price range set by proponents of the 'Affordable SAN Initiative.'
The initiative, which is supported by more than 35 players in the SAN storage market was initially launched in early February of this year. Members of the initiative say their goal is to dispel the notion that SANs are unaffordable for small and medium-sized businesses.
Until recently, that viewpoint was certainly more than just a notion, as an entry-point enterprise-class SAN system typically sold in the $250,000 price range. Frank Berry, vice president of marketing for QLogic, a manufacturer of Fibre Channel switches and host bus adapters (HBAs), says because of the high cost of installing a SAN, most vendors wouldn't even talk to a small or medium-sized business. That meant that a substantial piece of the storage market was being ignored by the industry. Beyond the market potential, it was also clear that small and medium-sized businesses were finding it difficult to meet their growing data storage needs and it was important for the industry to step up and meet the challenge.
"We've still got a long way to go, but the industry is making solid progress," says Berry. "Some of the breakthroughs are being achieved with the release of new products, but a lot of the progress has been made by simply repackaging existing offerings into more affordable bundles."
A typical SAN installation today consists of about one terabyte of disk storage and a tape library shared by eight servers across a redundant fabric. Vendors are looking to slash the cost of such installations by introducing configurations targeted at two to four node server workgroups supporting commonly used applications such as Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server.
An example of that repackaging that has occurred as part of the Affordable SAN Initiative is a system introduced last month by MTI Technology Corp. of Anaheim, Calif., called the Vivant D100. The system, which sells for just under $50,000 is, according to the company, an entry level SAN that provides a turn-key infrastructure to support common I/O intensive applications such as email and databases. The Vivant D100 can be connected to a single host via dual high-speed Fibre Channel connections, creating a redundant data path between the host and local storage - or two independent hosts via independent 100 MB/sec Fibre Channel connections. Local storage capacity is as much as 1.7 terabytes.
While the Vivant D100 offering is aimed at a small or medium-sized business, or a department within a larger enterprise, it can also scale into a multi-terabyte system as the business grows. "It's ideal for department-level customers who want an affordable SAN storage solution that's highly-available and designed to improve performance for servers running data-intensive applications," says Paul Emery, MTIs chief operating officer.
On the new product front, Imperial Technology, another affordable SAN Initiative participant, announced earlier this month that it will offer a file cache accelerator, combined with an entry-level connectivity kit from QLogic, than can be had for less than $35,000. The accelerator operates by keeping critical 'hot files' or files that are frequently accessed, in a dedicated cache to ensure that they can be instantly available 100 percent of the time. This eliminates bottlenecks in transaction intensive database and OLTP applications, and reduces the need for additional servers.
"Companies with large databases or transaction-oriented applications can save significant hardware dollars," says Robert David, president and chief executive of Imperial, an El Segundo, Calif.- based firm. "In many cases, substantial savings occur from reduced CPU-based licensing fees, server hardware, and storage array requirements. Some of our clients have freed up more than 60 percent of their servers."
Overland Data also introduced a SAN data protection system with 2.8 TB of capacity for applications such as Microsoft Exchange and SQL which comes in at under $37,000. It utilizes the company's Overland Neo series tape library system.
The prize for pursuing such product innovation is substantial for SAN vendors. A survey conducted by RBC Capital Markets and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), found that the fastest growing market for SANs over the next two years will likely occur in smaller, mid-tier enterprises. To date only 25 percent of mid-tier, and about 14 percent of small enterprise customers have deployed initial SANS. That compares with about 50 percent of companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Gartner Group has also projected that the storage network infrastructure market will grow from $1.3 billion in 2000 to about $10.8 billion by 2005.
However, in order for vendors to capitalize on that market RBC and CompTIA say several challenges have to be met, one of the primary being the price challenge. Beyond price, they say the industry must also overcome standards challenges within the industry which have added to the complexity of installing SAN systems, and their later support. Smaller enterprises in particular simply don't have the resources or expertise needed to maintain ever-growing volumes of digital information. Whereas as speed and performance are typically the most important factors in a large organization's purchasing decision, cost and ease of deployment and management are at the forefront of small and mid-tier businesses' lists.
Overall, the RBC and CompTIA report says the storage networking industry remains robust. Large Fortune 500 companies will continue to invest in SANs, but the fastest rates of new SAN adoption are likely to emerge from the small to mid-tier sector. IP-based SAN networks will likely dominate that emerging market.
One factor which will play an important part in bringing down the cost of SAN's is the use of IP-based SANs, as opposed to existing Fibre Channel-based SANs, but the industry is still bogged down in standards wars. QLogic's Berry says the decision by networking giant Cisco to enter the storage networking market has raised hopes that the industry will be able to overcome its standards issues. "They've already shown that they will be very active in the standards groups and its raised hopes that they will help push things along," he added.
Berry's perspective on the emerging SAN market is certainly well founded. QLogic was the initial driving force behind the Affordable SAN Initiative, but now that it has achieved substantial industry representation, Berry says the reins will likely be handed over to an independent industry body. While not yet confirmed, the initiative is being considered for adoption by the Fibre Channel Industry Association (www.fibrechannel.org). The FCIA is an international organization of manufacturers, systems integrators, developers, systems vendors, industry professionals, and end users with about 190 members.
Companies currently participating in the affordable SAN Initiative include; Acer, ADIC, ATTO, BakBone Software, BMC Software, Broadband Storage, Chaparral Network Storage, Ciprico, Computer Associates, Crossroads Systems, DataCore Software, Dot Hill, Eurologic Systems, Exabyte Corporation, FalconStor, Legato Systems, Inc., LSI Logic Storage Systems, MTI, Nexsan Technologies, Nishan Systems, nStor, Overland Data, Prisa Networks, Procom Technology, Qualstar, Quantum Corporation, Raidtec Corporation, SAN Valley Systems, Seagate Technology, Spectra Logic, StorageTek, Sun Microsystems, VERITAS Software, Vicom and Zzyzx Peripherals.