Users identify key storage issues


At the recent Storage Networking World conference, users dispelled doubt over storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) adoption, revealing strong support for both technologies.

In a poll of the 500+ end-user attendees, of those respondents who had implemented NAS or SANs, 24% said they used NAS, and 46% said their systems included both SAN and NAS. On the downside, 43% of users also said they didn't measure application downtime, 85% said they had serious staffing problems, and an alarming 80% admitted to not having a storage plan 12 to 18 months out.

The six-person roundtable polled users on a variety of topics related to SAN and NAS deployment. On the panel were Rudy Alexander, AT&T Solutions; Max Watson, BMC Software; Mike Ruettgers, EMC; Larry Peterson, Gelco Information Network; Linda Sanford, IBM; David Knight, Middlewire; and Michael Peterson, Strategic Research.

In line with a recent Computerworld survey of 100 IT professionals, the panel identified three major concerns with SAN/NAS implementation and deployment: availability/uptime, staffing/resources, and interoperability. According to the Computerworld survey, next to implementation costs (38%), lack of staff resources (36%) was the second greatest inhibitor to SAN deployment.

Interoperability, often perceived to be the greatest impediment, came in a distant sixth (18%). (Computerworld, in conjunction with the Storage Networking Industry Association, sponsored the Storage Networking World conference.)

"Availability is our primary worry," says Larry Peterson, vice president of corporate technical services at Gelco Information Network, a provider of hosted expense and trade management e-services.

Of the users who have implemented NAS or SANs, 46% are using both architectures.
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Uptime is paramount in global enterprise SANs, explains David Knight, COO and CTO, Middlewire, a start-up global enterprise content carrier. "We couldn't find software that could handle [our latency requirements] at the file-system level," he says.

Like many large companies, Middle-wire's success depends largely on tightly coupled relationships with vendors and data centers. The company plans to build 15 multi-terabyte hubs.

"It's all about getting help and partnering," says Michael Peterson, president of Strategic Research, a consulting and research firm in Santa Barbara, CA. "But to do that, companies need to figure out what they need-that is, what type of availability they require from each application."

"And they've got to understand what the value [of a particular application] is to the company," adds Rudy Alexander, vice president and managing partner, AT&T Solutions.

"It's important to come at it from a business perspective...to ensure your storage implementation has the right set of characteristics for performance," says Max Watson, president and CEO of BMC Software. "It's less about the technology and more about the business implications."

Once considered an impediment to business initiatives, IT organizations are now regarded as key enablers. CEOs are becoming involved in storage decision-making not only because storage is expensive, but also because the alternative-not having a storage infrastructure in place-is costly, explains Middlewire's Knight.

According to surveys, in 1996, 75% of a company's IT budget was allocated to systems, while only 25% was spent on storage. This paradigm is expected to reverse itself within three years.

However, amid the glory of IT's newfound status come serious staffing and financial headaches. "Businesses are being pressured to implement infrastructures faster and faster," says Gelco's Peterson. "IT organizations of our size don't have the resources [or skills] to bring this to bear."

Is storage outsourcing the answer? Thirty-six percent of conference attendees (users) said they were investigating the possibility, but an overwhelming 64% said they were not. Industry experts point to issues with security, control, and performance-not to mention the relative immaturity of the market and the current abundance of outsourcing "flavors"-as initial inhibitors.

But to keep up with all the emerging networking technologies (Fibre Channel over IP, InfiniBand, etc.), companies will need to turn to outsourcing, says Strategic Research's Peterson. And management will ultimately play a defining role, differentiating fledgling outsourcers from their mature counterparts.

When asked which was most important-better management tools, better interoperability, or better quality of service-42% of respondents said management tools, 37% said interoperability, and 13% said quality of service.

This article was originally published on December 01, 2000