Emerging technologies

In a publication like InfoWorld, it is always more fun to sing the praises of an emerging technology than to highlight its faults. Unfortunately, the job requires both — and this week we analyse two very promising technologies in which the rough edges remain visible.

The first is the task of integrating multiple SANs into a single storage unit. As our recent cover story noted, midrange SANs have become tremendously attractive. But what if you want to combine several of them from different manufacturers into one fabric to optimise performance?

That's what Test Centre Contributing Analyst Alan Zeichick and a number of vendor engineers tried to do for this week's test. Ultimately they had to admit defeat.

As a result, in their test of SAN management systems, Zeichick and the crew found they either had to a) settle for vendor-specific solutions that managed physical devices but didn't provide a single integrated storage network, or b) choose more complex solutions that require "virtualizing" the assets.

Virtualization offers many of the same advantages of a single integrated network — automatic storage allocation that is transparent to the servers, for example. But it does so at the cost of introducing a new layer — the virtualization hardware or software — that adds to possible points of failure.

Elsewhere, Nancy Gohring reports on progress toward reliable VoWLANs (Voice over Wireless LANs). This is a wonderful technology that makes it possible to receive or place phone calls directly through the company's WLAN. It holds great promise for companies in manufacturing, retail sales, health care, or other industries where people critical to the organisation are constantly roaming around the WLAN campus. For example, a hospital could call doctors directly through a VoWLAN rather than having them paged.

Unfortunately, Gohring reports, current implementations may suffer from voice "dropouts" and other quality problems. Companies that use gear from several vendors may wind up struggling.

These SAN and VoWLAN problems are just normal growing pains, of course, and will be worked out eventually. To avoid becoming a test case, though, you have two choices:

— In the short run, you can stick to solutions from a single vendor or integrator. This won't eliminate glitches, but it will give you a single party to complain to when problems arise.

— Alternatively, if you have time, wait until new standards emerge. The Storage Networking Industry Association is working on a protocol for SAN management, for example. And the IEEE's 802.11e standard, due in final form next year, should help provide voice continuity over wired or wireless LANs.

Neither choice is perfect. Either will lower your chances of pain.

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