Storage area networks aren't the complicated monsters they were five years ago, but installing a SAN can still be a daunting task for a small company that doesn't have a lot of technically savvy employees. That is why Microsoft is attempting to spread the SAN gospel (and boost the sales of Windows Server 2003) to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with its Simple SAN for Windows Server 2003 initiative.
Several vendors, including EqualLogic Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc., have already released products qualifying for Simple SAN certification. These products are EqualLogic's PS Series storage array and Brocade's SilkWorm 4100 and 200E families of 4 Gbit/sec switches. Many more companies are expected to follow in their footsteps in 2006.
Microsoft's goal is to make installing a storage area network as easy as possible by establishing a set of standards and practices to take the load off systems administrators and storage professionals (if they exist) at SMBs. If a product bears the "Compatible with Simple SAN for Windows Server 2003" logo, then, theoretically, the customer can install it as easily and painlessly as possible with a minimum of SAN knowledge.
Ease of installation is a major focus of the program. The Simple SAN program includes not only the technical specifications but also a number of requirements that must be satisfied in order to qualify as what Microsoft calls a "complete solution." For example, for a product to qualify for inclusion in the program, setup must be done with only a single reboot, and all drivers should be installable in one step. Other administrator-friendly features include:
- Documentation on getting started must be from a single source; multiple documents from multiple vendors are not allowed.
- The package must include a hard copy or CD of the complete installation process.
- There must be a single point of contact for supporting the SAN.
As noted earlier, Microsoft's ultimate goal is for the Simple SAN program to increase the penetration of SANs in the SMB market, where knowledgeable technical people may be scarce. The program aims at simplicity, rather than power or flexibility. Although Microsoft says that the program seeks to hide complexity rather than eliminate it, the SANs that qualify for the program will presumably be pretty basic. Just keep in mind that the initiative targets those who deal with small enterprise or department-level SANs; it won't provide much help for anyone installing or managing medium-sized or larger SANs.
Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years he has been a freelance writer specializing in issues related to storage and storage management.
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