Whatever your thoughts are, there is definitely a shift towards better storage capacity and data retrieval. In the search for the perfect system, we have seen the clocks wound back to a technology that is not new; in fact, to one that has been kicking around for more than ten years. The reason for its resurrection is need, not greed, for this is one technology that doesn't come cheap. This shouldn't preclude it from the equation though - once it is in place its scalability is infinite.
Storage area networks, or SANs as they are better known, provide a faster and more productive means of data storage by leveraging the speed of fiber channels, as opposed to the older Ethernet adapters used in server back-up and storage on the LAN. The drawbacks have been mainly in the cost and implementation. However, as with all things, the more uptake, the quicker the cost of the merchandise drops. As with all things commercial, increased take up will also ensure that new and better components are developed. Better management software, better hardware and technical improvements should bring with them better security.
SANs deliver an alternative to the more commonly used methods of storage, where, as the network capacity grows, the administrator adds to the system a series of servers to take on the additional data, along with more software and other network resources. In the SANs scheme of things, you get a dedicated, LAN-free, high-speed network that provides enterprise-wide storage, without the pull on your system resources. This enables your company to connect to a dedicated storage model and leverage the speed and reliability that the SAN model has to offer. Typically it utilizes Fiber Channels, a seeming bank of rack-mounted hard drives, along with the required motherboard. Of course you'll also need a proprietary SANs management software package and the usual array of hubs and switches. But you can have your storage environment designed to suit your individual needs. This runs independently from your LAN, which can integrate through the necessary fiber-optic cabling to ensure fast and reliable data volume collection.
For the business architecture that requires 24/7 live access and delivers to its customers through its web pages, downtime can prove extremely painful. Not only does a web site that goes down lose revenue, but customers vital to the business' success may look elsewhere to fulfill their requirements. Once lost, they may never return. SANs take that risk and reduce it, but also improve application recovery time. This has to be a big plus for any e-business model.
What also dictates whether a SAN would encourage better business practice is the volume of data and the speed with which it needs to be accessible. In this model the growth of data volume and its fast retrieval is certainly a candidate for this type of storage infrastructure. But, this type of storage environment may not suit everyone or every budget. Although it promises benefits over and above other storage models, choice is an important part of the equation and one that you will have time to consider before taking the last few steps towards leveraging this type of technology. You can, of course, have your SAN designed to suit your own corporate needs, but this is just one advantage to consider.
The SAN environment can be grown. By this I mean you can start off with a small requirement and add to the size of your storage capabilities as and when it becomes viable. The increase in take-up will ensure the development of the best switches and hubs, and an improved tolerance for the heterogeneous environment, which most LANs have produced. Let's not forget that many SAN environments, until late, were based on the principles of large UNIX and mainframe requirements and that the emergence of the e-commerce era has driven the need for the faster and more reliable storage capabilities of the dedicated network storage model.
SANs may also provide the answer to the growing problem of rapid company expansion. Distributed networks and the diverse geographical locations of many 'linked' businesses has driven the need for a better storage model with faster and more secure back up and recovery capabilities, along with data retrieval for day to day usage. Maybe it isn't until all hell breaks loose, and buildings, staff and IT infrastructures collapse that we realize just how fragile our business strategies can be?
Combine that with the increased usage of electronic communications, Internet and call center staff all requiring fast data retrieval, and you have a multitude of prime candidates for the SAN experience. So, next time you hear someone complaining about their server farm being over-worked and too slow for their needs and reiterating, "Storage, who needs it?" - just remember, sometimes the 'oldies' are the 'goldies' and SANs, like me, have improved with age!
Jayne Parkhouse is reviews editor for SC Magazine (www.scmagazine.com).