Simple SANs deliver savings

Customers and industry analysts say new low-priced storage area networks (SANs) can cut management costs by up to 70% for small and midsize business, compared with storage directly attached to each server.


Jeff Pieper's marketing design business runs on data, and he doesn't mind swapping out a server or fiddling with cabling here and there. But spending 45 minutes a day moving, compressing, decompressing and deleting files just so his 21-person staff could do their work was too much for Pieper, president of Pieper and Associates.

Rather than buy more servers and network- attached storage (NAS) appliances as his workload grew, he bought a Hitachi Data Systems Plug-and-Play SAN Kit with 4TB of capacity. At about twice the price of a server, it seemed like an expensive risk. "Nobody our size has anything like this," Pieper says. "Everybody was just getting another NAS and another NAS" appliance as their needs grew.

But a year later, Pieper says, the Fibre Channel SAN has more than paid for itself by letting him spend more time closing new business and less time - now only about two hours a month - fiddling with storage.

Pieper's story is typical of small and midsize businesses. Customers and industry analysts say the new, comparatively low-priced SANs - many bundled with preconfigured switches and host bus adapters - are easy to install and can cut management costs by up to 70% compared with storage directly attached to each server.

But they're not for everyone. Low-end SANs often lack strong encryption, continuous data protection, and local and remote replication - features that may be required by businesses in heavily regulated industries, such as financial services. Such features are available in some vendors' "simple SANs", but they may boost the cost beyond what a midsize company can afford, according to Tom Trainer, an analyst at research firm Evaluator Group.

Keeping it simple

These simple, or plug-and-play, SANs use either the Fibre Channel or iSCSI protocol, although low-end iSCSI SANs have received more attention because of their affordability. Internet SCSI allows the SCSI commands needed to communicate with Fibre Channel drives to be transmitted over Ethernet. This reduces hardware costs, since most offices have Ethernet networks.

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