Storage should be invisible: McData man

Tom Clark is McData’s evangelist for storage area networks, but he welcomes the day when terms like fibre channel and iSCSI disappear from common use.

That’s despite the fact he’s the author of the book IP SANs: a guide to iSCSI, iFCP and FCIP protocols for storage area networks.

“Customers don’t care about fibre channel, IP and iSCSI. Only technologists and vendors do.”

Clark, on a recent visit to New Zealand, hopes storage networking in the future will be more like printer networking today, ubiquitous and invisible. “My wife’s and my printers at home are networked and we don’t care about it. That’s how technology should be.”

There’s still some way to go towards achieving that goal and Clark, who joined McData after the storage network specialist’s acquisition of Silicon Valley switch maker Nishan Systems, is working towards a terminology-free storage world through McData’s membership of the agenda-setting Storage Networking Industry Association.

Because of different technologies such as fibre channel and SCSI developing IP-based versions and a raft of storage management software on the market that isn’t interoperable, a world where storage networks are like today’s printer networks is a decade away, he says.

“There will be further consolidation in the market for the next five years, then in eight to ten years I hope the technology will have enough intelligence and software will be streamlined enough that storage will be ubiquitous, readily available and cheap.”

Even so, SANs have come a long way in Clark’s eight years in storage area networking. “Now, all Fortune 500 companies have one.”

SANs have traditionally been the domain of organisations with upwards of $US50,000 to spend, but Clark says the buying of Nishan last year allows it to offer SAN technology at less than $US20,000.

“Low-end fibre channel and IP storage switches have brought the cost point into the small-to-medium enterprise space.”

A recent development in storage is standards body International Engineering Task Force’s ratification of iSCSI, the IP-enabled version of SCSI.

Clark says iSCSI, which will allow storage networking to take place over standard ethernet connections and thus avoid the distance limitations of fibre channel, was initially overhyped, but it has real potential for non-mission-critical data.

“The fact that Microsoft, Intel and all fibre channel bus host adapter makers have endorsed it means iSCSI has finally found a home.”

It could be the enabler for smaller organisations using direct-attached storage to get a SAN, but larger organisations already running mission-critical applications over fibre channel at bandwidth of 2Gbit/s or more will want to continue with fibre channel, he says.

“ISCSI could bring tens of thousands of NT servers into a shared storage environment.”

The IETF has also ratified iFCP and FCIP, IP-based variants of fibre channel which have the potential to remove traditional fibre channel’s 10km distance limit.

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