SAN and NAS: What’s In A Name?

    April 26, 2006

Did you read Tony Asaro’s latest? In his blog he talks about the end of SAN and NAS – and he’s right. Do you think anyone really cares about SAN or NAS? If you aren’t in the storage business, it’s a good bet that you don’t.

We are way too hung up on what we call things, instead of what they do – or better yet, what we need them to do. No one wants a Storage Area Network – they want a way to have a giant pile of disks be centralized from a management perspective that can act like a ton of direct attached storage mini-piles. The rationale is sound – if we pile them all together we can have them managed by less people and (in theory) we can get better utilization – i.e. better return on assets, out of one big pile vs. a zillion little piles. Do I really care if it’s a fibre channel block storage network or an Ethernet based file system interface? Again, not unless you are in this business.

Tony’s point, is that you shouldn’t need to care – the storage should be smart enough to feed the application requests in the most efficient means possible, and you shouldn’t have a blessed thing to do with it. The machine is smarter than you, at certain things. This should be one of them.

It wasn’t long ago when part of the system admin’s job was to assign physical memory to an application. You assigned page and swap space too. When is the last time you did that? Exactly – the machine is much better at making those decisions than you are. Your job is to figure out what application will lend the most value to whatever area of the business you are in – and then to establish the most effective means of delivering that application value to your consumer – the employee. Your value shouldn’t be deciding if it’s NAS or SAN any more than it was to figure out the optimal size page file for All-In-One.

In a lot of ways, the storage industry is the most back-assed of all. We have more high-tech stuff jammed into higher-tech packages that forgot the most important lesson of all – how to take the poor human out of the process. Imagine getting in your brand new Infiniti MX-35 – a high-tech car beyond compare. It has every conceivable gizmo, from a bluetooth cell phone connection that automatically routes calls thru the sound system, to a navigation system you can view in 3D. Now imagine that each time you got into it, it asked you to calculate exactly how much gas you would need to get home, based on today’s price, once you manually figured out exactly how far you had to go. It would make the sexy new high-tech vehicle seem like a giant pain in the you know what. That’s kind of what storage is.

We’ll really be on to something when we stop asking if you need 4Gb/second or 2, and start asking “what are your objectives?” and then letting the machines figure out the best way to attain them.

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Steve Duplessie is the author of the “Steve’s IT Rants” blog, and the founder and Sr. Analyst of the Enterprise Strategy Group.