Management, not interoperability, is the key SAN hurdle

Posted on August 01, 1999


Management, not interoperability, is the key SAN hurdle

Dave Simpson


In the SAN vendor community, there`s a lot of hard work and hair pulling going on over the issue of interoperability. Vendors are aware that IT managers and storage integrators realize that, despite a solid Fibre Channel standard, it`s less than certain that one vendor`s Fibre Channel product will work seamlessly with another vendor`s. Hence the multi-million dollar interoperability labs from vendors such as EMC and StorageTek, and the expensive and contentious "Plug Fests" that are designed to iron out interoperability problems.

But do end users really care? Surprisingly, the answer is often `No.` Here`s how IT managers typically approach SAN deployment: They choose a prime contractor, either their primary server vendor, their main storage vendor, or a third-party integrator (either a soup-to-nuts outfit like EDS or one of the smaller storage-centric integrators). Any of those vendors has a workable--albeit limited--set of Fibre Channel SAN building blocks they`ve already tested for interoperability.

Do IT managers really care if they can mix and match switches from different vendors? Or host bus adapters? Again, the answer is often `No.` The last thing they want is multiple software management packages to manage multiple vendors` components. SANs are scary enough without exacerbating potential problems with a mix-and-match strategy. The goal is to keep it simple.

Choose a switch vendor. Choose an HBA vendor. And while you`re at it, try to settle on as few disk array and server vendors as possible. That`s the simplest way to get over the interoperability issue.

The real issue is SAN management. Top-down, end-to-end SAN management that rivals LAN management is probably a few years away. Today, you`ll have to settle for different storage management packages for each SAN component: disk arrays, host adapters, switches, hubs, etc.

Eventually, however, you`ll be able to manage the whole SAN from a single, centralized console. It seems to me that the best way to manage a SAN is with existing network/system management platforms like Unicenter TNG, OpenView, Tivoli, etc. That`s why we were encouraged this summer by SAN management initiatives from vendors such as Computer Associates (see p. 1), HP, and IBM.

There probably won`t be a one-size-fits-all management standard, but any one of those vendors will eventually be able to provide centralized SAN management. It`s time to start pressuring the network/ systems management software vendors, because SAN manageability is-- or will be--a much more critical issue than multi-vendor interoperability.


Congratulations to the Fibre Channel Community (FCC) and the Fibre Channel Association (FCA), which agreed to merge last month. The new organization, which met for the first time last week, will be called the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA). The merger is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

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