• United States

Vendors position Fibre Channel for SMBs

Jun 24, 20044 mins
Data CenterSANSmall and Medium Business

* Fibre Channel groomed for SMB market

Let’s assume you like the idea of keeping your data on a storage-area network.  After all, SANs offer increased performance and improved manageability, and data stored on a SAN can be made available to all users.  We’re all in favor of that, right? Now let’s also assume you have all those needs, but no IT department, or at best, a small IT group, but with no one on staff who specializes in storage.  Is a SAN still for you? 

Suddenly the answer isn’t so easy.

SANs suffer from a perception problem: they have the reputation of being difficult to install and of being no easy chore to maintain.  When the first SANs for open systems came on line in the late 1990s, this reputation was well deserved.  There were very few standards in those days that could be applied to SAN-based hardware and software and the fledgling Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) was still trying to figure out how to define the difference between interoperability and compatibility.

In most cases, the easy choice was to go for a pre-packaged “SAN-in-a-box” from a vendor that, going forward, could then hold you captive.  The hard choice was to build your own SAN – thereby achieving vendor independence – and hope for the best when it came to interoperability.

With either choice however, you couldn’t get by without some serious storage expertise on your IT staff. 

Now things are much better.  Standards are well supported through SNIA and interoperability is increasingly becoming the order of the day.  It may even be reasonable to expect a requirement for adherence to SNIA’s SMI-S interoperability standard to appear in half the enterprise storage RFPs by the middle of next year. 

However, does this help smaller IT departments that may well have little or no storage expertise but still needs to upgrade their storage?  Can the smaller IT departments address the dilemma of their growing needs but limited potential for investment?

ISCSI has been touted as a low-cost way to create SANs over IP networks, and in many cases, this makes good sense. But what about Fibre Channel, which certainly represents the lion’s share of SANs in the mid-to-large size IT environments?

The initial outlay has always been high to install a new Fibre Channel SAN, which, along with a switch and host bus adapters (HBA), requires the basic expense of laying out the SAN fiber and switch.  And then of course there are the day-to-day expenses of keeping the thing running.

Increasingly however, the vendors are seeing smaller businesses as a market that needs serving, and Fibre Channel is now being positioned as a technology for that segment. 

A good example of this trend is the Emulex LightPulse LP101 family of HBAs, which provides 2G bit Fibre Channel connectivity at a street price of under $350 per node.  Emulex is of course no newcomer to Fibre Channel – it owns almost half the Fibre Channel HBA market and has been an industry heavyweight almost since the first SAN was installed. But what about the operational expenses associated with daily SAN management?  Has Emulex helped there as well? Yes. The “Autopilot” installation tool is designed to make things straightforward for the non-storage specialist, and makes for an easy install. 

Once configuration is completed, management and monitoring are about as simple as you could wish for.  And the best part is you don’t need to hire a dedicated storage specialist to run the thing. 

This last point may well mean that for many smaller companies, Fibre Channel SANs are now worth serious consideration when they next look to improve their storage resources. 

Or, to stretch a point only slightly, at last they have an opportunity to step on the corns of a dilemma.