Storage users hopeful about interoperability promises

Robert Holtz, who manages the data center at manufacturing conglomerate Kohler Co., said he hopes installing a storage area network (SAN) will let him create tape backups without disrupting his company's normal course of back-office operations.

Martin Dunlea, global IT director at Avid Technology Inc., said he wants to upgrade his existing SAN by removing single points of failure, adding clustering capabilities and installing new middleware that can control all the storage devices on the network. "Ultimately, I see it as an excellent step on the road to disaster recovery," said Dunlea, whose company makes video and audio editing tools for use in the production of movies, TV shows and music videos.

Holtz and Dunlea may have different goals in mind, but the two technology managers both said the message that resonated among rival storage vendors at the SAN Solutions 2001 conference here last week was a more positive one than they had heard in the past. During the event, officials from multiple vendors acknowledged that they have to work together to create interoperability standards for what are now disparate storage systems.

One result of the lack of previous cooperation among vendors is that security is almost nonexistent in storage installations, according to Hubert Yoshida, vice president of data networking solutions at San Jose-based Hitachi Data Systems Corp. "That is one area that we have to work on," he told about 150 vendor representatives at the conference.

In addition, as technology becomes more complex, CIOs faced with staffing issues care less about the guts of their storage infrastructure and more about the ease with which it runs and the return on investment that their companies can expect to get, Yoshida said. More and more, he added, those investments are being eaten up by network management costs as opposed to purchase of raw data storage capacity.

Interoperability standards, which are being worked on by vendor organizations such as the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), are expected to support storage virtualization -- the ability for users to pool together physical storage on devices made by different vendors. "We believe virtualization is the next technology block to watch over the next 18 months," said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass.

For Kohler, a Kohler, Wisc.-based company that makes kitchen and bath products, furniture, engines and other goods, virtualization is a long way off. Holtz said his interest in SANs was only recently piqued by growing publicity about the technology.

Kohler runs SAP AG's R/3 enterprise resource planning software on a computing setup that's built around Sun Microsystems Inc. servers and disk storage units made by EMC Corp. Holtz said his big concern is that, while different storage vendors may make claims of interoperability, he's not ready to bet his job on such promises.

Instead, Holtz said he's looking to "start small" with a basic SAN infrastructure for use in the long-term archiving of data before attempting more complex operations such as off-site mirroriing of information on an enterprisewide basis. "You'd really love for it to be any-to-any [storage] technology, but that doesn't seem to be here right now," he added.

For Tewksbury, Mass.-based Avid, Dunlea said, storage virtualization could be a crucial step forward. Avid, which makes tools used in recent movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Rugrats in Paris, has large storage requirements because of its focus on streaming video and audio.

"Frankly, [SANs] are expensive solutions," Dunlea said, especially if a company is buying storage boxes from multiple vendors. "But I think interoperability is improving," he added.

This story, "Storage users hopeful about interoperability promises" was originally published by Computerworld.

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