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Summer of San

David Doering

August 2000 | Many people believe the average computer trade show is a wine-and-dine affair for the press. It ain't so. It's a lot of busy meetings spent mining the latest nuggets of technology, and discovering once again that all that glitters isn't gold, every SAN isn't sound, and so forth. Of course, some of it turns out to be golden, which is why you keep going back. And this year's Networld + Interop in Las Vegas was a pleasant surprise as several remarkable storage products showed up.

The product with the most potential is EtherStorage, a new Gigabit Ethernet SAN system from Adaptec (http://www.adaptec.com), whose newly distinguished hardware products group seems to be leveraging its liberty with authority. This could well be the showstopper of the year if it performs as promised. Unlike previous SAN offerings that use Fibre Channel to connect storage devices and servers, Adaptec's EtherStorage technology uses standard, off-the-shelf Ethernet hardware to create the SAN.

Granted, GigEther is not as efficient as Fibre Channel for handling data requests. Nor does it deliver the distance that Fibre Channel promises (thousands of feet versus miles)--and far-flung connectivity is, of course, what gets many of us in the SAN game to begin with. Finally, GigEther isn't as fast as Fibre Channel (200MB/sec for GigEther versus up to a full 1GB/sec for FC). But the key here is that GigEther is good enough for a lot of sites. My guess is that 80% of sites interested in SAN technology could use Ethernet just as well, and for those sites, Adaptec's solution is well worth a look.

One of the primary barriers to SAN proliferation has been the high costs of implementation. SAN products are immature and lack standards, which means users have to put up with some experimentation to get their SAN right.

GigEther has none of these problems. There are many engineers in the field capable of creating a dedicated storage network using this technology. Combine EtherStorage with NAS products like Procom's NetForce 2500 (see below) and you could have a winning system for a third of the cost of a Fibre Channel-based SAN. Adaptec seems to be on the right track here.

the first shall be NAS

Speaking of NAS, Microtest (http://www.microtest.com) had its new FileZerver unit on display. (This is the same one we saw at CeBIT last February.) This time, Microtest had some good news to share from ZDLabs. Tests of the FileZerver gave it the nod over an HP SureStore system equipped with a StorPoint thin server from Microtest rival Axis. The FileZerver 400 delivered an average of twice the data per second throughput of the StorPoint unit. (ZDLabs has the luxury of running these tests with up to 60 clients--providing a much more accurate and reliable picture of the throughput comparison than tests with only four or five clients.) I am looking forward to trying out the new Microtest product to see for myself.

Microtest wannabe Sercomm (http://www.sercomm.com), a Taiwan-based component vendor, showed off several devices for printer and Internet access-sharing. For me, its StorMate RAID and the StorMate VS NAS were the most interesting. Unlike similar offerings from other second-tier NAS developers, the Sercom units support HTTP, SMB, and, of all things, AppleShare (either due to Apple's resurgence in the professional market or something it built in long ago and was perhaps too embarrassed to mention publicly until now). The RAID box supports RAID level 1 on 20GB hard drives. The VS unit is a virtual CD-ROM jukebox with either a 13GB or 20GB drive for about 20 to 30 disc-caching. Curiously, the unit also sports a printer port, if you want it to be a print server as well.

Procom has listened carefully to the mid-range and high-end user demands in NAS storage. It displayed its NetForce 2000 series in several flavors. These are not the mild upgrades to the DataForce/NetForce systems we have looked at in the past. These are full-grown, mission-critical servers which more than amply challenge Network Appliance in this space. The 2500SFT, for example, is a rack-mounted unit with dual active-active servers so even if one module fails, the other continues to service requests.

SAN for a new age

One feature missing from most SAN implementations is a way to create multiple virtual volumes which span physical devices. StoreAge Networking Technologies (http://www.storeage.com) had a fascinating tool called the SAN Volume Manager that does just that. Rack-mountable, Volume Manager handles heterogeneous environments using Fibre Channel HBAs. Mind you, this means even storage on different servers using different OSs can be combined into a single virtual volume. This should be a key piece of technology in any SAN installation.

Unfortunately, the one product I most wanted to see and wasn't able to was Connex' SANavigator storage management console (http://www.SANavigator.com). From its description, it promises to be the OpenView or the Unicenter of NAS and SAN storage. Right now, the limited penetration of these two technologies doesn't demand such a complete solution. But they will soon enough, and Connex will be a step ahead of any competition in the race to snap up the new marketshare that demands such innovation--particularly if the SANavigator is as fully multivendor-enabled as it is described.

The Network ObServer columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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