What Does SAN Mean To You?
Storage area networks (SANs) are not yet a reality, but widespread adoption of this technology is just around the corner. Find out how a $32 million storage integrator, Integrated Archive Systems, is positioning itself to take advantage of SAN technology.
Integrated Archive Systems (IAS) has come a long way since its first sale in June of 1994. The then one-person storage integration company operated out of an admittedly small, dark office.
Amy Rao, president and founder of IAS, recalls wanting a plusher environment, but her husband talked her into being more practical as a start-up business. Since that first sale, her company has never looked back. IAS has grown to 21 employees and reported a remarkable $32 million in gross sales in 1998. With its headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, and two branch offices, the company focuses primarily on enterprise-wide storage and integration.
Just as IAS has grown in the past five years, so has the storage technology that it integrates and supports. While storage capacities and media types have increased, the basic architecture of storage systems has remained basically the same. However, that will likely change in the not-so-distant future as storage area networks (SAN) loom on the horizon. While current storage systems reside on a company's local area network (LAN), a SAN is a separate network which only manages storage and access to data.
"SAN technology is a win-win situation for integrators and users," comments Rao. "For an integrator, SAN technology is more expensive and this should increase profits. Customers will be willing to pay higher prices because of all the benefits they get from a SAN."
Customers may be willing to pay for SAN technology. But, will your company be prepared to offer it to prospective clients?
Centralize Your Storage
Traditional storage systems can be thought of as an extension of a company's LAN. It doesn't matter whether a company is using magnetic, optical or tape storage. In any case, the storage is connected directly to the company's server. However, a company's server also manages the LAN and applications that employees use. As a result, traditional storage architecture has a couple of serious drawbacks.
The first is that users can only access storage that resides on their LAN through a server directly attached to that storage. Secondly, valuable data usage is lost because other servers are unable to access the disk storage.
SANs promise to eliminate all the problems associated with the current storage architecture and also provide some additional benefits. "A SAN is a separate network just for storage. And, just as a LAN has connections to multiple servers, so does a SAN," explains Rao. "You can think of a SAN as a pool of storage that is all connected through a fibre channel switch or hub. Users have access to all storage in the SAN, no matter where it resides."
Most medium- to large-sized companies have multiple locations throughout the country or world. And the data that a company generates typically resides at each location on a specific server. This creates what Rao refers to as "islands" of information. "Companies have server-based storage at each of their locations and only users with connections to those servers can access that information. A SAN allows users to access storage no matter where it resides. They can access data based on their needs and not on their location."
SAN Development Continues
All the pieces that make SANs possible are still being refined at this time. Hardware manufacturers are producing SAN-compatible products that include tape libraries and disk arrays. However, the software that manages a SAN is still being perfected.
"The enabling technology of SANs is fibre channel (fibre channel controllers offer a much faster throughput than traditional SCSI controllers). Fibre channel is an open standard supported by all hardware manufacturers," states Rao. With the hardware in place, operating-system and network-management support software is still being developed. Adds Rao, "Typically you have a direct connection to storage and data, and you manage that storage through a particular server. Now we need software that allows you to manage a pool of data. And, you need to connect multiple servers into that pool."
Currently, several software companies are developing software to manage SANs. Each software company will offer its own product with unique functionality. But all software will accomplish the primary objective which will allow storage to be highly available and very manageable.
Making The Business Case For SANs
The world is becoming a much smaller place. The Internet connects people no matter where they are located. Global companies have offices in different time zones throughout the world. As a result, companies are being forced to operate on a 7-by-24 basis. There is no end to the business day, and companies cannot afford a minute of downtime. All the above reasons make a compelling case for a company to consider a SAN.
A retail apparel company, for example, can have locations around the world. Company data resides at each particular store. Executives from each location may need access to sales, inventory, and projection information. However, ease of access to information is limited because it is stored at multiple locations and accessible on through the server to which it is attached. A SAN allows the company to centralize its storage, making it accessible regardless of where the user is connecting from.
"If you can harness all of your company's information on a SAN, you can make quicker and more informed decisions. It can really help a company drive decision making and grow its business," comments Rao. For a retail apparel company, instant access to seasonal and regional sales data could be critical. This information could help the company control inventory and capitalize on current trends in its market.
Pitching A SAN To Customers
As storage prices have dropped over the years, some consumers may balk at paying the higher prices that accompany SAN technology. However, VARs and systems integrators should not be deterred. Rao says IAS discusses SAN technology with all its customers. The key to selling SAN technology will be outlining the benefits to customers.
Instant access to data may motivate some customers to integrate SAN technology. But, a SAN is also a good method for protecting a customer's current investment in storage. In general, CPU speed is going to double every 18 months. In turn, customers' current servers become obsolete and they are faced with installing a faster server.
Customers also face a similar decision when it comes to storage. When a customer outgrows a tape library, it needs to be replaced by a library with higher capacity. A SAN, however, allows companies to expand storage instead of replacing it. "The bulk of customers' money is always going to be spent on storage," says Rao. "A SAN allows customers to use their current storage and add to it as needed. Savvy customers will implement SANs because this technology will protect their current investment in storage. It's a great proposition for customers."
Companies that can't afford downtime are also eager to adopt SAN technology. When a server crashes today, users are forced to sit on their hands because access to storage is cut off. However, a SAN has multiple storage access points. So, if one server in a SAN goes down, access to data is still highly available through any of the other servers connected to the SAN.
Cashing In On SANs
SAN technology has been progressing steadily and is now reaching critical mass. VARs and systems integrators should be discussing this technology with their customers. If not, you can be assured that a competitor will take the opportunity to do so. "Companies that have 100 GB of storage at the beginning of the year will need 300 GB by the end of the year. I'm not talking about big companies. Storage is a growing concern for almost every company. They want a way to manage their storage before it becomes the bottleneck in their network for data availability," states Rao.
Helping customers manage their storage has propelled IAS from a one-office, one-employee company to a $32 million company. Rao is projecting $55 million in gross sales in 1999. The emergence of SAN technology could generate new streams of revenue that push IAS over the $100 million mark. Will your company be in position to cash in as well?