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Storage Protocol Explosion

Today's Storage Manager is faced with more shared storage connectivity choices than ever. Off the top of my head there is SAS, iSCSI, NAS, AoE, FCoE and of course good old Fibre Channel. One would think that at some point there will be a shake out in storage but that doesn't seem to happen and when it does it seems like they are replaced with two or three new ones.
Today's Storage Manager is faced with more shared storage connectivity choices than ever. Off the top of my head there is SAS, iSCSI, NAS, AoE, FCoE and of course good old Fibre Channel. One would think that at some point there will be a shake out in storage but that doesn't seem to happen and when it does it seems like they are replaced with two or three new ones.When trying to decide between each of these protocols, compromises have to be made, some claim to be easier, others less expensive and still others higher performing. The storage manager's job is to select the protocol that offers the least compromise with the most benefit to the organization. Interestingly I am finding that a growing number of storage manufacturers are providing little to no guidance because they "do it all". Since many of the manufacturers can offer at least two or three of the protocols the tendency on some of their parts is to let you decide. That's fine if you know for sure which protocol you want to use but many storage managers are stuck trying to make that protocol selection.

Why would you select one protocol over another? Typically most storage managers are going to go with the choice that is already installed or the one they have the most experience with if you are dealing with a data center that has a clean slate. What would make you switch from something you know to something new? An alternative protocol would have to offer something completely new. Typically that is going to be something that brings down the price of your storage infrastructure investment, something that is easier and more flexible to manage or something that can deliver much higher levels of performance. Ideally it would be a new protocol that can do all of it.

The truth is that as most shared storage implementations start, almost any protocol can be used and deliver a similar result. It is fair for some protocols to claim that some start out easier and less expensive than others, but we find as environments scale the infrastructures all become increasingly complex. What seems to make one installation be able to scale and grow better than another is not only dependent on the underlying protocol selection but also with the capabilities of the storage system. In short an intelligent storage system can make alleviate the complexities of scale.

There are two ways to handle scale in the storage environment. First you can make the infrastructure simpler by having it learn to adapt to changes. For example have it automatically take advantage of new paths and either re-rout or effectively use all available ports and connections. Second you can make the storage system itself better handle scale by either being able to present one managed pool of storage that can take advantage of multiple storage processors and storage I/O connections as needed. While the choices you have will ease some of the burden, reality is that as your environment grows, making sure it is operating at peak efficiency will require effort and knowledge on your part. Nothing will ever take away the importance of a skilled storage manager.

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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

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