AT&T Puts Hands on SANs
Expanding its business continuity offerings geared around storage, AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) is introducing a service that manages the network transport needed for remote replication, backup, and recovery (see AT&T Takes on Disaster Recovery).
The service provider claims its new StorageConnect service is the only one available that allows managed transport between any two storage locations -- no matter how far apart they are -- with flexible bandwidth and protocol options. The new service also supports multivendor SAN and tape backup environments, AT&T says.
"All the client has to do is come up and plug into the StorageConnect box," says Bernie McElroy, AT&T's VP of business continuity and high-availability services. "There's no technical risk, and it works with any storage equipment out there... We're kind of agnostic there." [Ed. note: Just kind of, though.]
But while AT&T boasts of the novelty of its new service's any-distance capability, the company admits that running certain applications can limit the distance of the transport. For instance, says AT&T product manager Paul DiGiacomo, the service can easily support distances of 30 to 50 miles (or about 48 to 80 km) over Sonet, while it can support up to 200 km over DWDM.
And some observers wonder just how popular this new service will be. "Assuming AT&T is using off-the-shelf CPE [customer premises equipment] devices, I can see no reason customers have to lock in to Ma Bell versus putting out a competitive bid," says David Takata, president and CEO of Engage Capital Inc. "Maybe AT&T discovered that storage managers wouldn't be knocking down their doors to have a telephone company manage proprietary data and instead is moving toward doing the transport instead of focusing on the managed storage services."
AT&T, however, insists that its managed Ultravailable Storage service has been consistently gaining momentum. Now, the company says, customers that want both their storage and the transport between sites managed for them can simply combine Ultravailable Storage with its Ultravailable Network Services and the new StorageConnect service. All three services are managed by AT&T's Integrated Global Enterprise Management System (iGEMS) management platform, with performance reporting delivered through AT&T's portal service.
Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala cautions against AT&T's positioning the offering as a business continuity service. "This is a network continuity offering," he says. "Business continuity is a different animal."
With a bit of modesty, however, AT&T really has a chance to shine in the network continuity arena, he says. "AT&T is really stepping out with services in this area," he notes, pointing out that the regional focus of the RBOCs and the troubles plaguing WorldCom give AT&T a unique opportunity to rule the market. "I think the market is there. They just have to go out and get it."
For StorageConnect, AT&T offers bandwidth ranging anywhere from 10 Mbit/s to 1 Gbit/s, and Fibre Channel (or Fiber Channel, as the press release states), Enterprise System Connection (Escon), or Fibre Connectivity (Ficon) storage network protocols. To deliver the service, the carrier uses CNT (Nasdaq: CMNT) routers and switches and CNT edge devices and Ultranet directors.
But those vendor picks aren't set in stone, nor are they exclusive. DiGiacomo says the carrier may swap out that equipment if the service requirements change. "We've looked at a lot of equipment," he says. "We don't sell it as a box -- we sell it as a service. We want to simplify the customer experience."
AT&T says its new service offering is timely, especially in light of the growing number of new regulations and legislation mandating how companies and institutions secure their stored data (see Feds Set DR Regulations).
For one customer that's already signed up for AT&T's service, the priority is simply providing continuous access to its data. WorldSpan, which provides technology services for the travel industry, is housing an EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) Symmetrix box in an AT&T data center as a secondary disaster recovery site. The company, which stores up-to-the minute airline passenger information on its system, says reliable mirroring and recovery is absolutely crucial to its business.
"We have to be able to retrieve that on the minute," says Kelly Higgins, WorldSpan's director of e-commerce communication infrastructure. "EMC's box and the bandwidth that AT&T provides meet our expectations."
In addition to WorldSpan, AT&T says it already has a number of customers signed up for the new service.
So how much does this service cost? The pricing is driven by the amount of bandwidth a customer uses, AT&T says. At the low end, the carrier offers a 10-Mbit/s FC-over-private-line service between two endpoints for a minimum monthly fee of $20,000. At the high end -- for example, an OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s) service with full line-speed running across the country -- the offerings are priced on an individual basis, the company says.
In addition to StorageConnect, AT&T also announced its Direct Control today for hosting customers that want to manage their own environments inside AT&T Internet data centers. This service allows hosted customers to remotely and securely access their servers located in AT&T data centers through an Internet browser.
— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Byte and Switch