Smashing the silo

Tackling storage bottlenecks is set to become a major headache for regional enterprises that have deployed SAN islands - unless they successfully integrate storage within the overall IT architecture.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  August 1, 2007

Enterprises in the Middle East have been investing heavily in storage systems to handle ever increasing amounts of data. Investments in fibre-channel storage area networking (SAN) products and software have been particularly on the rise, keeping pace with the boom in greenfield datacentre construction and consequent spike in IT infrastructure spending in the region.

"If you look at market statistics there is still a significant amount of direct attached storage that our customers are buying. Yet, there is a very strong adoption rate for SAN - the solutions and the philosophy - which are becoming more mainstream," says Martyn Molnar, NetApp's regional area director.

While much of the developed market is beginning to look at SAN management in integration with storage resource management (SRM), regional enterprises still consider SAN as singular structures and manage them in that manner. This behaviour begins with the way that most enterprises buy their storage solutions.

Bringing the pieces together

"In the Middle East and Asian markets, we do notice that many customers do not buy SAN for consolidation but with a specific application focus. They buy storage for Exchange or virtualisation or for a database. We call these project specific SANs," says Eric Endebrock, manager for enterprise storage marketing at Dell.

Buying SAN in silos is like living in a house with a water tank for every room.

"There is little in the form of comprehensive SAN management or SRM to be found in many countries of the Middle East. What we often see are point products that monitor and manage one or more storage arrays from a particular vendor, another that would do the same for HPAs (host protected areas) and maybe one more for monitoring just the switches. That's like living in a house with a water tank for every room instead of one for the whole house," says Omar Dajani, systems engineering manager for Symantec MENA.

Two distinct habits usually accompany this mindset to buy and operate SAN environments as single silos. First, most enterprises stick with the management software that comes with the SAN products and second, they tend not to rock the boat with SAN after the initial implementation.

"Most enterprise users look at SAN solutions as vertical investments and use only the default and free vendor software that comes along in the solutions package. Their strategy is not truly multi-vendor as some other parts of the globe. Often they find the free solution sufficient to manage their storage and do not feel compelled to put in extra funds to get an advanced tool," says Cherif Sleiman, chief technologist at Cisco MEA.

Endebrock agrees saying, "Customers are really not focused on the RoI that they can get from owning the higher end software. They state that they do not manage storage at the granularity that these solutions offer. They do not see a financial benefit from spending extra funds to purchase software to manage something that they do not have any problems with in the first place."

The second habit is that of user reluctance to change.

"Often enterprises never change the settings or the parameters of the storage infrastructure once the configuration is done. Most administrators and enterprises are reluctant to make any changes to a functioning environment," says Mohamed El-Shanawany, regional storage sales manager for IBM.

These prevailing attitudes towards storage have left most large enterprises in the region with a very limited view across their SAN infrastructures even as they continue to add silos.

"There is no visibility across these SAN environments and that's a major problem. Storage capacity might appear to be running out when actually there is enough. According to some market statistics, utilisation is only around 35%-45% in a typical network and this is just disk capacity. This encourages more capital expense which is being made prematurely and unnecessarily," says Dajani.

He also points out that the lack of proper monitoring and management of the infrastructure results in several duplicate copies of the same piece of data, which can consume a lot of space as well.

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