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A New Vision For Data Management In An Open Storage Network.

This article is one in an ongoing series related to the newly formed Open Storage Networking (OSN) initiative. Please see the June issue of CTR ("OSNI Puts FC's Feet To The Fire," page 1) for a complete discussion of OSNI.

For most IT managers today, the dual issues of managing data for universal availability and cost are the most challenging. Yet the solutions to these problems are already at hand. End-to-end data management solutions based on the Open Storage Networking (OSN) concept dramatically improve network data access in a cost-effective way. This is not theory. OSN storage networks are deployed and operating today at many sites. The concept is working because all the core elements of OSN storage networks--compute servers, networking and interconnect devices, storage appliances, management software, and tape backup--are all available and interoperable. OSN uses only industry standards and protocols and it stresses interoperability of the interconnect devices such as switches.

OSN solutions involve an end-to-end data management and delivery strategy that complements each customer's existing hardware technology. They include filers (file servers) and caching devices that manage the entire process of moving data from a central repository to the end user. These two components are essential to a true open storage networking strategy.

To back up a little bit, let's recap Metcalfe's Law: the more people that can access data, the more valuable the data becomes and the more people will access it. In other words, data sharing adds value to data. It creates more interactions and generates derived data that can also be shared. For these reasons, data sharing is becoming a core element of every enterprise-wide IT solution, although many suppliers have limited it to the workgroup level.

This is no longer necessary or appropriate. Sharing data beyond the workgroup increases its value immensely. OSN users enjoy a total data management system that is scalable to deliver data on demand to all points on a network--enabling businesses to simplify, share, and scale their storage networking infrastructure without limits.

One reason companies have not extended their data center storage networking systems to remote offices is that there is no IT support available. OSN solutions, on the other hand, are simple, reliable, virtually self-managing, and require almost no IT support--the least overhead-intensive solutions the industry can offer. This is particularly important in light of the industry's ongoing shortage of support staff employees and it reflects OSN's focus on fighting complexity, which is another word for high total cost of ownership.

Managing Data Instead Of Devices

The ideal solution in an OSN environment combines all the necessary hardware and software to operate an OSN network. It should include fully automated data management, plus tools for the management of data availability, delivery, security, and other network attributes.

True OSN solutions can provide all this capability because unlike traditional direct-attached storage systems, they are not focused on the management of blocks of data and physical storage devices. They manage data, not disks, and files, not blocks. OSN data management systems attach a metadata envelope to each data block, converting it to an easily managed file that includes ID, security data, and other information. OSN appliances manage these files automatically, with no intervention by the user. As a result, companies receive greater assurance of availability and better protection of their data and, because the solution manages at the file level, users can assess and improve end user and customer Quality of Service (QoS) and other operating parameters.

This unique approach to data management creates another benefit: unequalled scalability. One complaint we have heard from companies is that their ability to connect large numbers of disk storage devices exceeds their ability to manage the resulting mass of data. With OSN, scalability is not about physical connectivity; it is about creating a data management framework that can extend to cover any number of disk drives and application servers. Companies can scale limitlessly because the appliance approach manages data, not hardware.

We can define data management in the following way: the automated delivery of data management services for a desired quality of service across a distributed network. In this context, "distributed network" translates to a plug-in data access utility that uses corporate WANs, VPNs, the Internet, and even caching devices that serve distant offices on the edge of the network. All the resources that store and move data are hidden from network users and managed automatically by the OSN solution. For end users, interface to the net- work cloud is as simple as using their browsers.

Making The Vision A Reality Through Standard Technologies

The OSN data management is built on four classes of building blocks:

1. Standard high-level file-service protocols, including CIFS, NFS, HTTP, and soon, DAFS.

2. Standard networks, including FC, GbE, 10GbE, and TCP/IP.

3. Standard data management protocols, including NDMP and SNMP.

4. Best-of-breed solutions that include innovative data management software, standard backup software, management frameworks, and other tools.

Because OSN uses standard file-service, network, and data management protocols, it reduces all the complexities of network access to a simple set of choices and enables the integration of best-of-breed building blocks. This allows companies to use standard technologies to build the data management architectures that serve them best. They can create large data access networks that offer high performance, low cost, and--because they are designed with multiple alternate connections--redundancy and resiliency. These are networks optimized for interoperability and low TCO.

Differentiating OSN Networks

Four key attributes differentiate OSN from other data network architectures:

1. It uses file-level access as opposed to block 110.

2. It uses intelligent subsystems as opposed to dumb storage devices.

3. It replaces costly complex integration with standard plug-and-play protocols.

4. It replaces brute-force block I/O with intelligent data management.

These attributes combine to deliver the benefits of easy integration, automated management, fast deployment, and unlimited scalability. Users simply add building blocks to meet changing demands. OSN leverages the user's existing technical skills to the full because it involves no new technologies or standards and, in addition to improved network performance, reduced TCO, and its anytime, anywhere data delivery, OSN enables easy file access and recovery and allows single-copy data to be shared across the network.

We can sum up this vision of OSN data access and management very briefly. The OSN concept makes data sharing across enterprises and global organizations practical, simple, reliable, and easily scalable. It uses industry-standard protocols and integrates best-of-breed solutions. All the necessary data management hardware and software is commercially available today and deployed at many companies that are enjoying the benefits of OSN. The vision is a reality.

Mike Alvarado is the storage networking marketing manager at Network Appliance (Sunnyvale, CA).
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Author:Alvarado, Mike
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:1113
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