SMS Data Products enters SAN market

Reseller SMS Data Products Group, McLean, Va., launched its entry into the storage-area network (SAN) market late last month with a solution that combines the company's disk storage technology with SAN management software from Transoft Networks Inc.

The solution offers customers the option of buying a complete SAN from SMS or converting an existing Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) storage system into a SAN.

SMS would convert RAID systems by adding Transoft's SAN Manager product, servers and a switch or hub that supports Fibre Channel, which is a high-bandwidth interconnect technology that has been embraced for SAN solutions. SAN Manager is a network administration tool designed for managing storage network configurations.

"You may not have any need for a SAN right now," said Rob Marks, director of marketing for SMS. "But you may need one in the future. We wouldn't want you to have to buy an entirely new product."

A SAN enables many servers to share a central online storage array, much the way local- and wide-area networks permit many client computers to share applications and directories on a central server. SANs allow network administrators to distribute data storage across multiple servers and platforms rather than having to dedicate data to a specific network or server. SANs also allow managers to reconfigure their storage systems without having to take their LANs offline.

Industry experts consider SANs most suitable in situations where an agency stores large amounts of data that needs to be accessed by many users.

Jim Porter, president of Disk/Trend, a Mountain View, Calif., market research firm, said Transoft's SAN Manager is designed to enable customers to convert their existing storage systems to SANs. "Every one of their prospective customers is looking at a transition, so [the product] has to be designed [to make] transition as smooth as possible," he said. "It looks like an intelligently thought-out package of software to do that.''

SAN Manager provides a graphical user interface that displays an entire SAN configuration as a single image. Administrators can allocate storage to different servers by dragging and dropping, without having to make any physical changes to their networks.

Marks said SMS chose SAN Manager because it was the first such product that the company tested; the arrangement with Transoft is not an exclusive deal. "We want to make sure we're compatible with what's out there," he said.

"SMS has been a niche player in the storage market, and this simply allows them to expand their space from server-attached storage to the SAN marketplace, where you can have multiple servers interfaced," said Roger Cox, RAID storage analyst with Dataquest Inc.

Server-attached storage connects a storage device directly to a file server and is not networked.

In early May, Hewlett-Packard Co. announced that it will purchase Transoft and incorporate Transoft's products into HP's storage business. Porter said the purchase is unlikely to affect Transoft's relationships with current partners. Few agencies have committed to deploying SANs, at least in part because industry standards for Fibre Channel have not yet been settled. But Marks thinks the federal market is about to take off.

"Their storage needs are growing," he said. "It's not [just] that they have the need to store all this stuff, but they need it to be kept online."

Lance Adams, director of sales with SMS, said his company has federal customers testing SANs, but he could not discuss them yet.

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