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Issue of April 2004 

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Technology Updated!

The latest in storage technology is already available in the Indian market. But how relevant is all this to enterprises here? by Prashant L Rao

India Inc is rapidly taking to technologies such as SATA and FAS. SAN vendors are offering NAS gateways and NAS vendors iSCSI. That does solve the problem of host access but companies have no option but to buy storage from a single vendor—unless they want to run into interoperability hassles. Though standards such as SMI-S (Storage Management Initiative Specification) are aimed at mitigating interoperability problems, that's a solution for another day. Right here, right now, CIOs should tread with caution and buy into an architecture that they feel comfortable with for the long haul. Modifying storage architecture is not for the faint of heart. Most CIOs avoid doing it and even consultants advise their clients not to undertake this task lightly.

SAN-NAS consolidation

SAN vendors are promoting NAS gateways while NAS vendors are pushing iSCSI—two routes to the same destination of SAN-NAS consolidation or convergence. NAS Gateways are essentially NAS headers that allow NAS functionality on a SAN. These are supposed to be the fastest growing segment of the NAS market.

K.N. Prasad, Head Marketing and Alliances, Apara Enterprise Solutions says, "Many of our customers have gone in for storage consolidation as they want block and file based access, many have gone in for DR and they have unified their data storage at a single location."

"Most customers do not want to replace their SANs (on which mission critical applications like ERP, Databases, and CRM run). However, they would like to add NAS like flexibility to their SANs," says Arun Rawtani, Country TSG Manager, EMC - India. "Our strategy is to qualify IP bridge and gateway solutions that will allow existing as well as new storage arrays to participate in an IP SAN. We will also provide native IP connectivity for our storage products," he adds.

In such solutions storage is visible as a SAN to mission critical applications while other applications see the same storage as NAS. Backup and Disaster Recovery are common to both, as is management.

Modifying storage architecture

Subash Baliga, Business Manager, Apara Enterprise Solutions says, "We have modified the storage architecture of some customers. The major constraints are the cost involved and the mammoth task of data migration. We generally advise our customers not to modify their storage infrastructure."

Hero Honda hasn't modified its storage infrastructure and it doesn't intend doing so in the near future.

Daya Prakash, project manager (LG Electronics India-ERP and e-business) at LG Soft India Pvt Ltd who is responsible for managing LGEIL's ERP and e-business initiatives says, "We have not modified our storage architecture (to date). Today we are working on SAN but we may have a mix of SAN and NAS in the next one year."

Emerging technologies

Rana Dutta, Regional Director-Asia Operations, Movinture Storage Networks says, "Innovations seeded in 2002, such as SATA (Serial ATA) and iSCSI, were improved in 2003, while vendors laid the groundwork for promising new technologies such as SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) and small form factor drives with enterprise-class performance to take off in 2004."

"SATA is coming up soon," says Avijit Basu, Marketing Manager-Network Storage Solution, HP India. The general feeling is that cost per GB is going to go down as SATA supplements fiber channel disks in storage boxes.

EMC offers both fiber channel (FC) and ATA drives on the same CLARiiON box. Applications that need faster access use the FC disks; those that don't need such a high level of performance use the slower 320 GB ATA disks.

Yogesh Kamat, Sales Manager, Indian Subcontinent, Maxtor says, "SATA and SCSI will co-exist as they offer different benefits for different applications. For example, the fashion and personal products industry get "flash" reports each morning of the previous day's sales at retail stores around the world. That type of speed requires SCSI drives. After the first day, the data needs to be organized with the previous week's, month's or even year's data to be part of a larger data-mining report. These reports can be generated from data on SATA drives that are designed for capacity and not for transactional management. The perfect storage system for CRM is a mix of SCSI drives for transactional (ERP) storage (the first 24 hours) and very large SATA or parallel ATA drives for longer term (CRM) storage."

SATA debuted with a data transfer speed of 150 Mbps. Succeeding generations will push the rate to 600 Mbps. Sun plans to bring out SATA based products in the next few months.

"My pick for the most popular storage technology in 2003 goes to iSCSI," says Dutta, Movinture.

S.R. Balasubramanian, vice president - IT, Hero Honda Motors Ltd also picks IP Storage (iSCSI) as, "It offers flexibility of access, it's cheaper to deploy and IP-based skill sets are easily available." Serial ATA is his other pick, "Because of the low cost as compared to SCSI." He expects it to take three years for IP SANs to become an acceptable alternative to FC SANs.

"The major benefit of iSCSI is cost savings," says Idris T. Vasi, Director, Optical & Storage Networking, Cisco Systems, Asia-Pacific.

Sunil P Rangreji, general manager- Global IT Infrastructure, Wipro Technologies says, "We use storage over IP to store data at the block level. It helps in replication for DR." Wipro Technologies also uses Serial ATA as it helps them to inexpensively store less critical data. CAS is used to maintain the data that is infrequently accessed. While Wipro Technologies is piloting IP SAN, it is undecided about iSCSI's merits.

CAS (Content Addressed Storage) is handy when it comes to storing information that is basically static in nature. "If I take an insurance policy, the policy record and signed forms should be accessible and unaltered as long as I live," says Rawtani, EMC, giving an example of a situation where CAS is applicable.

"SATA is being evaluated for data archival where speed is not a criteria," says S.R. Balasub-ramanian, Vice-President-IT of HDFC Bank. Talking about IP SANs, he raises an interesting point. "Bandwidth requirements will be very high when you access storage from remote locations on the WAN. When bandwidth is cheaper and more reliable, we may consider this option."

LGEIL uses fiber attached storage. It plans to be on this technology for another year. "We can think of moving towards IP storage in the future. We have not gone in for storage virtualization. The availability of bandwidth in India will be a key driver for IP SANs," feels Prakash, LG Soft India.

SATA was expected to have a bigger impact on enterprise storage in 2003 than it did. Nevertheless, SATA managed to put down roots for 2004. "By delivering high capacity and fast transfer rates at low cost over point-to-point connections, SATA drives are proving to be the happy medium between high-performance Fiber Channel and SCSI disks and tapes," says Dutta, Movinture.

Not surprisingly, all disk drive vendors now offer SATA models. Fujitsu delivered the first 2.5-inch SATA drive, and Western Digital pushed drive performance past the 10,000 rpm barrier with its Raptor model. SATA drives are expected to eventually replace ATA on desktops and servers. Drive capacity keeps on growing. "Hard drives from one or more manufacturers as large as 350 to 400 GB could begin to be available sometime in 2005," says Hafeez Khawaja, Director-Emerging Markets, Western Digital.

Parallel SCSI is going to give way to serial connections and drives with SAS expected to become the performance leader in disk drive technologies in 2004. Pundits expect to see controllers that can support hundreds of SAS or SATA drives in the coming year.

Adaptec, Hewlett-Packard, Maxtor, Fujitsu, and Seagate offered samples of SAS technology last year, and other vendors could soon follow suit. "It's easy to imagine storage arrays that mount both high-performing SAS and cost-effective SATA drives, saving customers both money and floor space," says Dutta of Movinture.

K.N. Prasad Head-Marketing and Alliances, Apara Enterprise Solutions says, "Disk costs are coming down and SATA has come in to address nearline storage. It will be a complimentary disk technology that will address semi-critical data requirements. Critical data will always remain on fiber as fiber drives are more rugged and reliable."

Seagate entered the 2.5-inch mobile drive market in 2003 and it plans to produce similarly sized enterprise-class drives. A smaller format could make it easier to build storage arrays that consume less power, run cooler and occupy less space. Fujitsu presented the first small-format SAS drives at the end of 2003.

Virtualization is an area where several vendors including HP and IBM have come out with innovative solutions. HP's CASA is a black box that supports storage arrays, tape libraries and filers from multiple vendors. Companies can even use two CASAs for remote replication. "It creates huge RAID sets with fewer LUNs (logical unit numbers). Traditionally companies use software to virtualize and reduce the number of LUNs," says Basu, HP adding, "Business Continuity is coming down to mid-size segment." HP's CASA on EVA (Enterprise Virtual Array) for remote replication starts at $30,000 to 40,000 for 1.5 to 2 TB.

IBM has SVC (SAN Volume Controller) which is also being offered as a virtualization blade for Cisco's Director switches.

Cisco's VSAN is a technology that lets you logically partition a physical SAN into multiple virtual SANs. It's used for replication or to set up departmental SANs. "Quality of Service on a VSAN lets you put an OLTP application onto a VSAN and give that particular VSAN the highest priority in the fabric," says Benny Chan, Business Development Manager-Storage Networking, Cisco Systems Asia Pacific.

Network Appliance is working on a storage grid which it is testing with Oracle on 10G. The goal? A cluster of 512 nodes of 2 TB each.

Storage standards

SNIA's SMI-S is slated to be the magic bullet for interoperability, the biggest problem when it comes to storage infrastructure. It will do this by replacing today's multiple managed object models, protocols, and transports with common models for each object class and a common protocol for management interactions. Management application developers will be able to support devices from multiple vendors quickly and reliably because they look alike.

SMI-S support is already there in Cisco's Director switches. "It provides an interface for management software to interact with the device. Bluefin is a storage technology that's akin to what SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) is for networking," explains Cisco's Chan.

Content Addressed Storage (CAS) is a new category of storage that makes an organization's fixed content cost effectively available 24/7 with assured authenticity. Any file requiring storage that isn't changed, updated, or modified when recalled is essentially fixed content. (For example, legal documents, photographic archives, medical imaging files, product and promotional shots, media presentations, transit maps etc). Network Appliance has NearStore with SnapLock software certified by regulatory bodies for CAS requirements. "A WORM device is a monolithic, expensive solution," says Sandeep Dutta, Director-Strategic Partnerships & Marketing, Network Appliance India Pvt. Ltd. "You can take a volume and call it a SnapLock volume and specify the number of years you want to lock it for. You can even reclaim the volume after that period is over."

Fabric Attached Storage (FAS) encompasses both SAN and NAS. Both these technologies are converging into block and file capable fabric-attached storage. FAS will continue to gain share because, unlike direct-attached storage (DAS), its architectures permit many servers and clients to share common storage assets, improve storage utilization efficiency, and expand client access to mission critical data, while reducing total cost of ownership. A significant chunk of all storage will be fabric attached by the middle of this decade.

Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) is the natural extension of SCSI, a parallel interface standard used for hooking peripheral devices to computers. SCSI has reached its limit in terms of the scale and complexity of infrastructure it can handle. SAS offers faster communication and easier configuration at about the same price. Better yet, SAS is device compatible with Serial ATA.

Serial ATA (SATA) is an advanced replacement for Parallel ATA. It is a low cost, reliable and scalable solution that creates a market for inexpensive, networked storage solutions. SATA is compatible with today's software.

Prashant L. Rao can be reached at

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