Multiplatform integration is the key to storage networks

Multiplatform integration is the key to storage networks

By Doug Fierro

As vendors queue up to present their visions of heterogeneous networked storage solutions, users are in a race to separate the wheat from the chaff in this emerging arena. Strategic storage purchase decisions are being weighed by a new set of criteria, many of which are rooted in the years of block-and-tackle work required for heterogeneous data management.

Enterprise storage networks are a still-evolving architecture being developed to maximize heterogeneous connectivity and management of enterprise storage, networks, software, and servers. An enterprise storage network is a complex amalgamation of components. In general, these components provide a core set of functions, including heterogeneous connectivity across Fibre Channel, SCSI, and where required ESCON; heterogeneous interoperability among all servers, storage systems, and network components; and centralized information management, protection, and sharing.

There are no shortcuts to heterogeneous enterprise storage networks. Amassing the resources and expertise to create them won`t happen overnight. As potentially powerful as enterprise storage networks are, getting to the point of a fully operational, heterogeneous environment is by no means trivial. Issues around broad-scale interoperability and management stand as tall orders for development activities. The overall effort entails building significant partnerships, interoperability testing infrastructures, and support functions.

Strength in numbers

Knowledge gathering in the nascent multiplatform storage world depends on partnerships with server, networking, database, and other software vendors. Recognizing the disparities among different servers is critical to heterogeneous storage computing. It`s one thing for a storage provider to say it can attach its systems to any operating system environment, but it`s a vastly different issue to support all of those systems simultaneously because they all have unique characteristics. The most successful storage vendors are able to work closely with the major server vendors to optimize the storage to work with all data types--not, for example, a single Unix data type.

Users should evaluate storage vendors based on the relationships they`ve built and the extent to which they`ve invested to adequately analyze servers, databases, applications, and operating systems. By working in a cooperative, rather than competitive environment, storage companies can fully test server and software components, send engineers on-site to identify areas where each company excels, and take advantage of those specialties.

Storage vendors should collaborate with partners during product developmental phases to customize new features and enhancements. By not waiting for new server and software technologies to hit the streets, such partnerships can shave months off heterogeneous storage delivery times.

Freedom of partnerships means that enterprise storage network providers have full access to server, software, and network component vendor product lines. Such "full disclosure" allows the interoperability testing process to be thorough and complete.

Interoperability testing is a critical ingredient of storage networks, perhaps just as key as channel technologies, network switches, and hubs, and enterprise storage software. Interoperability testing ensures that the entire solution will be thoroughly evaluated, and that users will derive the full benefits of enterprise storage.

The key to interoperability testing is having the partnerships that enable you to gather all of the various elements of an enterprise storage network in-house for thorough testing. Storage vendors often check performance only in "best-case" scenarios--where both the server and the storage network are running on all cylinders. However, true interoperability testing demands that the network be put through its paces and subjected to fault simulations. Testing at that level, however, necessitates the cooperation of server, software, and network component vendors who can provide the type of "knowledge transfer" needed to test their products. This level of cooperation can take years to develop.

Enterprise storage networks require an infrastructure to manage, share, and protect data across the enterprise. Unfortunately for users, many vendors are focused on their own platforms, and lack the partnerships, know-how, and experience to establish that type of expertise.

According to a white paper by the Boston-based Aberdeen Group on enterprise-wide storage, companies that commit to single-server solutions "will wind up paying too much for their storage needs and will face extreme, labor-intensive difficulties in performing vital storage-related functions, such as managing the storage and backing up and moving critical data." Aberdeen also warns of costly upgrades if enterprise-wide storage solutions aren`t implemented.

The end game of heterogeneous interoperability can only come from technology providers who have invested significant R&D into meeting the unique requirements of each platform`s characteristics. That means years of developing partnerships, crafting product testing techniques, building software and customer service teams, and consolidating it all under one roof.

Doug Fierro is manager, network solutions, at EMC Corp., in Hopkinton, MA.

This article was originally published on April 01, 1999