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IP storage area networks have value with SMBs

David L. Stevens, Contributor

Most small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have limited IT budgets. So when it comes to storing data they must do so wisely. They may fill file servers with the maximum number of hard disks or buy cheap external direct-attached storage (DAS) units. Before they know it, their storage space is getting out of control. With limited IT personnel to manage it all, they need a simple solution: Internet Protocol storage area networks (IP SANs).

Combining an existing Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) network with the ease of installing an IP SAN in an existing environment, it's almost a no-brainer for your SMB customers to consider an IP SAN.

Centralized management with IP SAN

One cost-reducing and time-saving benefit SMBs can reap from an IP SAN is the centralized management it provides. When data is scattered across several servers or DAS units it becomes increasingly hard to manage. Time is precious for IT managers. By providing a single view of all the storage in the environment, the overhead associated with managing data sprawl is greatly reduced. This is typically done through some type of GUI provided by an IP SAN vendor's solution. Such vendors include EMC, EqualLogic, Fujitsu Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, LeftHand Networks, Microsoft, Network Appliance, Nexsan, ONStor, SANRAD and StoneFly.

IP SAN brings efficiency and scalability

In addition to the complexity of managing storage, it also becomes difficult to efficiently use storage.

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Users rarely are able to predict the correct level of storage they will need. Therefore, in the traditional DAS environment, there is always spare storage that always seems to be attached to the wrong server. IP SANs can address this problem with a technology called thin provisioning. Thin provisioning provides the ability to allocate storage on a just-in-time basis, driving up storage efficiency. Two vendors who provide this capability include LeftHand Networks and Network Appliance.

Scalability

Another challenge associated with DAS environments is how to scale them when the DAS units begin to fill up. Storage is typically allocated in fixed volumes based on the user's ability to predict what they will need in the future. Unfortunately if there is a need to change that volume size a new volume will typically need to be created; the contents must be migrated to the new volume, and users and applications must then be mapped to the new volume. This is very time intensive and inefficient. Most IP SAN vendors provide the ability to "bolt-on" additional storage and grow the environment dynamically without downtime.

Improved availability

An IP SAN can also improve the availability of data being stored. Most IP SAN solutions have multiple layers of redundancy built in. This includes redundant power supplies, redundant controller modules, multiple network interfaces and multiple levels of RAID (5, 10, 50, 0+1). This is in stark contrast to most DAS units or built-in hard drives on many servers where one drive can potentially cripple a critical server and cause grief for IT.

Hopefully, it is apparent how centralized management, when combined with value-added services, can help open the door to new business opportunities in the SMB environment. If you still need additional ideas on how to provide value to SMBs, send me an email and we can discuss the different options.

About the author: David L. Stevens is a Storage Manager for Carnegie Mellon University where he manages multiple iSCSI SANs. When he is not managing SANs he is enjoying time with his wife and two cats.


This was first published in December 2006

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