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Tips in Evaluating a SAN

If the time has come to purchase your first SAN, there are many challenges to overcome before you can reap the benefits of centralized storage.

Some of the decisions facing prospective SAN purchasers can mean the difference between deploying a storage system that opens up new opportunities or ending up with a very expensive anchor holding back the organization.

There are many elements in the SAN purchasing process. Let's look at the ones that can help you specify a system to meet your organization's goals.

Business goals, tech specs

The starting point in a SAN purchasing strategy is to determine the business' needs -- both present and future -- in terms of data management and storage. The first step is to hold assessment meetings with those areas of the business that use the SAN in order to create a picture of the organization's storage requirements for the next three to five years.

A key part of the process is to determine which SAN technical specifications are needed to meet the organization's goals. For example, if you will be running a database-centric system, you will need to determine the disk access speeds required to guarantee performance levels. At the same time you may want to specify advanced LUN masking features to optimise disk access times for those applications.

If disk cost and power consumption are issues, you may need to look for a SAN that allows intelligent disk tiering and data migration. You will also need to consider the backup options available to safeguard your data and how quickly the system can be restored in a disaster recovery situation.

If the SAN is intended to form the heart of new working practices for your organization -- for example, as a backbone for server virtualization – you will need to think about different requirements. These include the ability to boot virtual servers directly from the SAN itself and apply thin provisioning to grow virtual drives intelligently.

Staff skillsets

The requirements for administering the SAN are another important factor. If you have a dedicated and qualified SAN administrator, this is a moot point. However, if SAN administration is to become part of the job function of an existing member of staff, then a full assessment of the skills and training required to manage the technology should form a part of the purchasing process. The newest SAN products use a Web browser-style management GUI that allows existing staff with a solid knowledge of traditional server RAID array disk management concepts to adapt quickly to a SAN administration role.

To summarize, the main objective when purchasing a SAN is to ensure that it meets the needs of your business at the point of purchase and throughout its lifecycle as a useful component of your business. To attain this objective, you need to know the driving goals and processes of your organization and the technical specifications available from SAN products that can meet them.

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