Good news for end users: Low-cost SANs (finally)

It should come as no shock that, according to virtually every survey of end users, "high cost" is the number one reason why users have not implemented a storage area network (SAN). Fortunately, however, the Fibre Channel vendor community has recognized this and is doing something about it.

Host bus adapter (HBA) prices are coming down steadily, and switch vendors are following suit—at least at the low end of the market. You can now buy 8-port switches for well under $1,000 per port. And some disk array vendors are embedding full-function switches in their subsystems to further reduce cost and complexity. (For more on the Fibre Channel switch market, see the cover story in this issue.)

A number of HBA/chip vendors are advocating Fibre Channel functionality on motherboards. And in February, approximately 35 vendors launched the "Affordable SAN Initiative," which promises SAN configurations for less than $50,000. Of course, those configurations don't provide full redundancy, and they only support a few servers/HBAs. However, that's not a bad price for a starter SAN.

In addition to end users clamoring for lower-cost SANs, price pressure on Fibre Channel vendors comes courtesy of iSCSI-based TCP/IP SANs which, among other things, promise the low prices associated with the commodity Ethernet market. Whether the iSCSI community actually delivers on that promise remains to be seen, but if it spurs reduced prices in the Fibre Channel camp, that is good news for users.

Lower component prices and reduced complexity are sure to prompt SAN adoption among smaller companies, which have significantly trailed large enterprises in embracing Fibre Channel SANs. For example, only 14% of companies with revenue of $50 million to $250 million have deployed a SAN, according to a survey by RBC Capital Markets and CompTIA (see InfoStor, March 2002, p. 1).

However, smaller companies are also expected to be the first to adopt iSCSI SANs, which are based on standard IP LANs. So it will be an interesting battle between the Fibre Channel and iSCSI camps in the small enterprise market. (For an update on progress in the Fibre Channel market, see the Special Report in this issue.)

Storage management revisited
Two issues ago, I speculated on the potential success of EMC's WideSky initiative, which promises to provide management of not only EMC's hardware but also all of its primary competitors' disk systems (see "EMC at the crossroads: Wide-eyed over WideSky," February 2002, p. 6). The goal is centralized management of all storage resources, regardless of vendor.

What I failed to mention, however, is that what EMC plans to do is already possible with software from other vendors, most notably BMC Software and Veritas. As independent software vendors, companies like BMC and Veritas have full access to the APIs of all the major hardware suppliers.

Earlier this year, IT consulting firm Gartner Inc. "ranked" SAN management software vendors in one of its famous "Magic Quadrants." Topping the list were EMC, Veritas, and BMC. (Other vendors that Gartner evaluated included Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, McData, and Vixel.)

The battle in the storage management software market may actually prove more interesting—and more relevant for end users—than the upcoming SAN infrastructure battles.

Dave Simpson,

This article was originally published on April 01, 2002