By Hailey Lynne McKeefry

The future of network storage technologies seems bright, as many companies are seeking better ways to manage their storage infrastructure. To meet this demand, storage vendors are working to create more sophisticated software applications to provide single-console SAN management within a heterogeneous environment. In addition, the future promises a number of new standards that will increase interoperability and usability issues with SANs.

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Storage standards
The Storage Networking Industry Association, for example, is working to drive a variety of standards. The group’s host bus adapter (HBA) API standard will address some of the interoperability issues inherent in SAN technology for uniform functionality of HBAs.

Another emerging standard is the Management Information Base (MIB) from FibreAlliance, which is hosted by EMC. FibreAlliance currently has 50 member companies, and its first project is developing the MIB. The MIB provides enriched information to manage the entire SAN, including servers, switches, hubs, and storage systems. The result is that an end-to-end management system can obtain simple network management protocol (SNMP) status information about an entire SAN through a central management console.

Other new standards are working to provide additional high-bandwidth options to consumers. InfiniBand Architecture Specification, which was launched by Intel but has gained broad industry support, hopes to provide better reliability by replacing the PCI bus with a high-bandwidth (multiple GB/sec.), switched network technology.

InfiniBand, which is compliant with Direct Access File System (DAFS), shifts I/O-control responsibility from processors to intelligent I/O engines (known as channels). The new architecture will increase the performance range for entry-level servers through high-end, data-center class solutions using interoperable links with aggregate bandwidths of 500 MB/sec., 2 GB/sec., and 6 GB/sec., with a 2.5 GB/sec. wire signaling rate. Solutions based on the InfiniBand Architecture are expected to be available starting in 2001.

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In the NAS arena, the DAFS protocol launched by Network Appliance is gaining attention. The new systems protocol is designed to enable a generation of high-performance, low-latency storage networks by establishing extended levels of scalability, functionality, and ease of use. A number of large industry players, including Intel and Seagate, are backing the standard.

Using DAFS, vendors will be able to create intelligent storage appliances based on open standards. The result will be enterprise-class functionality at a fraction of the cost of traditional, proprietary mainframe and data-center clustering technologies. DAFS enables direct memory-to-memory file access and uses the Virtual Interface (VI) architecture as its underlying transport mechanism. VI allows bulk data transfer directly to or from application buffers and permits applications to access VI-capable hardware directly without operating system intervention.

In addition, many vendors are exploring new, network-based storage options, although most of these are several years away from becoming a reality. The strongest charge is in the IP-enabled storage arena, which interconnects SANs with metropolitan area networks (MANs), wide area networks (WANs), and local area networks (LANs). Storage over IP transfers large blocks of data instead of files over local gigabit Ethernet or wide area SONET networks. In a storage over IP network, SCSI- or next-generation InfiniBand-based servers, tape libraries, and disk arrays can connect to and operate with devices on a gigabit Ethernet network.

Storage over IP will take advantage of an organization’s existing or planned IP backbone to move storage data without intersecting LAN traffic. Further, data over IP will provide connectivity and conversion among servers and storage devices or among storage devices that drive interface protocols, such as SCSI and Fibre Channel.

Cisco Systems is at the forefront of storage over IP and is developing the iSCSI protocol. These sorts of standards will let users transfer blocks of information contained on the SAN at high speeds across long distances without extending the fibre-channel fabric contained on the SAN.

How will these developments affect your storage plans?

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