The idea that storage technology is going to be blazing hot in 2005 might seem a little strange to those of us who never think about storage until there isn’t enough of it. Yet, as the year begins, it’s difficult to overstate the level of industry excitement around new and emerging technologies like

Serial ATA II (SATA II), Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) and iSCSI, and the fact that networked storage has gone so thoroughly mainstream.

The bottom line is that storage has moved both to the technological cutting edge as well as to the boardroom, recognized as a mission-critical resource. “”Storage is becoming a top-tier decision,”” says Alan Freedman, IDC Canada’s research manager for infrastructure hardware. “”The more functionality that you can realize from storage, the more it will have real impact on the bottom line.””

A big part of that is the trend toward tiered storage. The concept isn’t entirely new — users have been moving old data out of the mission-critical bullpen to archival storage for years. What’s new is that tiered storage has become an automated process. “”Say you have a financial database,”” says Pete Steege, Fibre Channel products marketing manager at Seagate Technology. “”But all the historical data in that database has changed to reference data. A tiered storage system can automatically migrate that data to a different class of storage.””

Even if direct attached storage is still more common in Canadian enterprises, Freedman says the migration is definitely toward the storage area network (SAN). One of the big SAN value propositions is that enterprises can peel storage traffic from the main network to leave overhead for other bandwidth-hungry applications. The other advantage is that SANs allow companies to treat storage as a network-based, centralized resource, rather than as a problem to be solved on a point-by-point basis.

MORE DISKS, NO WAITING

“”Companies have been buying so much storage to use in data warehouses and to manage supply chain and CRM relationships that it becomes very difficult to manage,”” say Jay Kidd, chief technology officer at network storage equipment vendor Brocade Networks. “”What’s driving SAN technology is the ability to switch to a different server, and provide phenomenal uptime. In an age of Internet-based applications, that kind of availability is paramount.””

The slogan for SAN technology in 2005 should be “”more disks, no waiting.”” As the year began Brocade was the first — though certainly not the last — vendor to ratchet up Fibre Channel speeds by 100 per cent from 2 gigabits per second to 4Gbps. Does anyone really need a 4 Gb SAN? You may as well ask if anyone really needs 10Gb Ethernet. “”If you’re going to need it in a few years and it’s the same price as the older technology, then why not?”” Kidd says.

At the same time, the introduction of Fibre Channel SAN routing promises to make the technology far more flexible. Rather than dealing with isolated storage fabrics, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) will permit the integration of SAN resources over multiple fabrics. Historically, SANs were designed as 10- to 100-port, Layer-2 networks, but FCIP changes all that.

VIRTUAL ATTRACTION

Freedman says big storage customers have no doubts about storage virtualization technology. Although it’s still at a very early stage of development and adoption, the promise of being able to allocate capacity from a SAN, as if it were a single, elastic, scalable drive is very attractive indeed.

“”It’s something that really heavy users have been asking for,”” he says. “”That’s why it’s such a compelling opportunity on the vendor side.””

After years of vapour, in fact, storage virtualization is finally a shipping product. Already, DataCore has a full suite of SANMelody storage management applications featuring virtualization, and Hewlett-Packard has made the technology the centrepiece of its grid computing solution.

The biggest storage story of 2005 might ultimately be complete serialization of direct attached storage. Serial ATA II (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS). The former permits an unprecedented 15 serial devices to be connected to a single port. SATA II also supports 1.5 Gbps per port transfer rates and eliminates the read-write bottleneck with native-command queuing, opening the way for blazingly fast disks.

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