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The Perfect Entry Level SAN

At each Storage Network World (SNW) there are more than a few vendors that I meet with that are trying to address the first time SAN buyer. I expect that this year will be no different. In fact given the economy there may be more than ever. There are few observations that I have made in what makes a successful entry level SAN beyond the given easy and affordable.
At each Storage Network World (SNW) there are more than a few vendors that I meet with that are trying to address the first time SAN buyer. I expect that this year will be no different. In fact given the economy there may be more than ever. There are few observations that I have made in what makes a successful entry level SAN beyond the given easy and affordable.The problem with easy and affordable is that it is very easy to claim and hard for the users to verify until they have been using the product for a few weeks. Most suppliers focus on the GUI for ease of use. My only advice here is to try to evaluate your final selections, simulating the production environment as best you can. The other advice is don't rule a product out because the initial install is a bit clumsy. We've done a few tests where that happened and ended up really liking the product. Notice though I said clumsy not impossible.

Ease of use goes beyond the interface though. At some point you are going to have to add capacity to the system. How easy is that going to be? Try not to order the evaluation unit with all the capacity installed. Force an upgrade early and see how that works for you. How quickly is the capacity made available to the attached servers? What down time, if any is involved, and is that amount of time acceptable?

Many first time and second time SAN buyers spend a lot of time focused on features, things like snapshots, replication, VMware integration all catch your attention but ask yourself if you really need them. Take the VMware VMFS and the Veritas File System use cases. At its core these file systems provide many of the advanced storage features that are similar to the capabilities within the storage system. Does it make sense to let these file systems do the work and save some money by not having to buy these capabilities? If you are going to use the file system's capabilities then why double pay for the same feature?

Reliability is also an issue. Having a storage system go down is going to cost you time and possibly money. Most of the time shortcomings in entry level systems can be made up for by spending just a little bit more money or by proper planning. In some cases though the storage systems in this class simply may not be able to cost effectively deliver the reliability that higher end and higher priced systems will. Consider this. Make sure that you have a good recovery plan and that your business won't be too severely impacted by the time it takes to recover.

In our next entry, "The Ideal Protocol for the Entry Level SAN" we tackle the thorny discussion of protocol selection. Should you use iSCSI, Fibre or NAS or something newer like ATA over Ethernet?

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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.