Users get heated over IT politics at SNW

Storage administrators want vendors to stop pushing so hard

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- What began as just another technology education session at Storage Network World today got heated when the subject of network convergence turned to the politics of IT.

Converged networks are being pushed on CIOs and other high-level IT managers by network and storage equipment providers such as Cisco , QLogic, NetApp, EMC and many others as the solution to bandwidth and data management issues.

Just install a 10Gbit Ethernet multi-protocol switch and multi-protocol network adapter cards capable of handing Fibre Channel over Ethernet or iSCSI and tah-dah, problems solved! Well, not quite.

While most end users might admit converging LAN and SAN traffic over a single network is attractive, a majority would also likely say there's quite a bit of angst associated the possibility of data loss or availability.

The subject of network convergence also exposes some pretty raw nerves between network and storage admins.

"You guys are pressing way too hard," one audience member told a group of vendors at the panel discussion on converged networks. "I can't stand vendors coming up my boss's butt with new technology. We've seen new things come and go. You guys were here five years ago with iSCSI."

The panel moderator, David Vellante, CEO of The Wikibon Project, a Web 2.0 community for IT professionals, then asked, "How feel about storage people reporting to networking people?"

"You're going to lose a lot of talented people," said another audience member, who didn't identify himself. "You're just going to have a lot of storage people saying, 'I don't want to mess with the network.'"

Approached after the panel discussion, the storage architecture manager (who asked his name not be used) said his company has a networking administration staff of 100 people and a storage administration staff of a dozen or so who manage about 20 petabytes of data on disk storage subsystems.

He pointed out that when a LAN connection fails, the company's network may go down for a few minutes, while if the storage network fails and data is lost, head will roll.

"The technology does not solve that issue. It's people. It's experience and skills. If the network boys owned the NIC, we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said, noting that server administrators are held responsible for network interfaces.

"Network administrators don't know anything about disk drives," he said. "This is a dangerous vision: having to reinvent yourself every 10 years. This is about the separation of church and state."

The audience member was also angry about what he saw as bloated prices for host bus adapter (HBAs) cards, which are network interface cards for Fibre Channel traffic.

HBAs can cost anywhere from the high hundreds of dollars to more than $1,000 each. And yet, as the storage administrator pointed out, "they're no different than NICs."

"They're just silicon on a board," he said.

"In my opinion, I think the greatest hurdle to converged networks is politics," said Jason Beckham, vice president of IT for Payformance, an electronic healthcare claims settlement service provider.

Beckham has a small IT staff of 14 people. Last year, he revamped his 2Gbit/sec Fibre Channel storage network, installing Nexus converged network switches from Cisco, converged network adapters (network interface cards) from QLogic and storage from NetApp. Payformance has combined its typical data, NFS, iSCSI, and FCoE traffic all over Ethernet.

Beckham said the benefits were many fold, including increasing his network throughput from 100MB/sec to 1.5GB/sec., saved him 30 to 50% on networking equipment costs, and simplified his management through a single user interface.

"My networking and storage people are interchangeable," he said. He also admitted that when he deployed the converged network a year ago, the technology was not "fully baked." He found problems with converged network adapter software drivers, that were not easily discovered.

Beckham also admitted that eventually finding harmony among his network and storage admins was easier because of his smaller environment.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com .

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