Optical/IP Networks

Storage Networks Supernova

As traffic on the Internet continues to grow explosively and become more valuable in terms of the applications it supports, a big problem is emerging for many corporate users. Data storage is getting much more important, and much more difficult to manage.

Luckily, optical networking is coming to the rescue. Low-cost, high-speed connections are beginning to enable companies to build storage area networks (SANs) that serve multiple sites, rather than just a single data center. This centralization promises to deliver big benefits in flexibility and economy of scale.

And that’s just for starters. The idea of offering remote storage services – such as disk mirroring and disaster recovery – is catching on. A new breed of storage service providers (SSPs) is emerging, one that promises to extend the use of SANs to smaller companies as well as offering wholesale storage services to other players, such as application service providers (ASPs).

"Storage networking is exploding," says Johna Till Johnson, senior vice president and CTO at Greenwich Technology Partners, a consultancy. She says network storage is opening a new era in which whole data centers will function "on a cloud in the sky." The bottom line?

This is the first application of optical networking that delivers direct benefits to corporate users, the folk that are used to spending big bucks for their communication networks. That’s good news for them, and it’s also good news for carriers that are looking for ways of making money out of the optical infrastructure they’re installing.

From a service provider perspective, storage networks are also a no-brainer because the bandwidths required typically consume a whole wavelength. In other words, there’s no need to buy extra gear, such as edge switches, to pack lower bandwidth services into wavelengths – and that equates to less investment, less risk, and quicker revenue generation.

Some carriers are already jumping on the bandwagon. "We found that the leading demand for optical networking services is being driven by storage," says Jon Oltsik, vice president for marketing at GiantLoop Network Inc., a startup whose model includes DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing), dark fiber, and managed services in a range of U.S. cities.

It’s important to realize that local storage networks are already commonplace in corporate data centers. "Large, unpredictable storage requirements have validated the move to create a distinct, dedicated network for stored information on the back end of the LAN," says Arun Taneja, director at The Enterprise Storage Group Inc. a consultancy. "Any company with large storage growth is putting together a storage network today."

The new thing is that their reach is being extended to multiple sites. “Storage networks are getting bigger, they're getting more widely networked, and optical's the way they're getting networked," says John McArthur, vice president for storage research at market research firm IDC.

All the same, storage networks themselves are quite complicated, and right now there are plenty of questions over which particular technology will win the day and which vendors are here to stay. The best way of minimizing risks and maximizing rewards is to do your homework -- get a grip on the basics and dig into the details.

Light Reading has taken the sweat out of this process in the following report. It outlines the basic principles involved, then delineates the key trends afoot. It also lists companies active in storage networking and points to nascent startups that might hold the key to future developments.

Follow the report sequentially, or click right to the part you want. Hyperlinks are as follows:

Storage Networking Basics
SAN vs. NAS?
Trends in Storage Networking
Storage Networking Glossary
Vendors: Brocade -- and Beyond
Other Useful Links
Next page: Storage Networking Basics

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Mary Jander 12/4/2012 | 8:59:14 PM
re: Storage Networks Supernova Storage networking offers intriguing possibilities, such as virtual data centers and even virtual PCs at some point in the future. Any predictions in this direction?
gxshen 12/4/2012 | 8:59:00 PM
re: Storage Networks Supernova Does anybody have any idea on the cost difference between SAN and GE? Any comment is helpful!
majid 12/4/2012 | 8:58:47 PM
re: Storage Networks Supernova It's quite significant, greater than 5:1, even though Gigabit Ethernet uses the same PHY interface as Fibre Channel. For example, a 8-port FC *hub* costs around $2000, a FC host bus adapter around $1000.

The reason of course is that GbE is benefitting from tremendous economies of scale, as a general purpose technology. While it is in theory possible to run traffic other than disk I/O on FC, nobody in his right mind would do that given the price difference.

In fact, given the prohibitive costs of Fiber Channel switches, their deployment is limited to mainframe-class data centers. I've seen data centers with 4 Sun E10000 servers, and fibre channel disks, but those disks were attached directly to the servers, not via switches.

I suspect true SANs (i.e. with hubs and switches in some sort of topology, not just point ot point links) are mostly used when there is a requirement for data vaulting (remote mirroring of mission-critical data offsite, usually for disaster recovery purposes).

Today, most data vaults are built within a short distance (less than 30km) of a primary site, on leased dark fiber, and probably using IBM ESCON more often than FC. This is not enough to protect against earthquakes, and other such major disasters.

It could thus be argued here is a market opportunity for emerging carriers specializing in offering ESCON/FC transport over DWDM combined with outsourced data vaults.
vdmh 12/4/2012 | 8:57:28 PM
re: Storage Networks Supernova Majid,

thanks for the lucid explaination. Could you also suggest (speculate) why SAN uses FC and not GbE?

PBC 12/4/2012 | 8:57:18 PM
re: Storage Networks Supernova Most your questions can probably be answered at:



PS- www.searchstorage.com is also a good site
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