Measuring the need

One of the first "killer apps" for storage-area networks (SANs) was the sharing of tape drives and cartridges among many servers. By making more use of their tape drives, people saw a major increase in the return on their tape investment because, before SANs, the drives were used only a couple of hours a day to copy data from one or a small number of servers.

Once it became possible to share tape drives and write backup data more efficiently, people began to ask how they could actually share the data on the tapes. This opened up the subject of sharing data from disk storage.

But is file-level sharing of SAN data that much in demand?

Robert Murphy, marketing manager for storage at SGI, thinks people "will be screaming for this." Although people have seen its possibilities through network-

attached storage, they've also been frustrated by that technology's inability to handle large data files, "and in our space, files are a terabyte a pop," he said.

Murphy tells the story of SGI workstation users at a film and video production company who solved their file-sharing problems by unplugging the

Redundant Array of Independent Disks storage unit from a workstation and trundling it over to another workstation on a cart so that the person there could access its files. Otherwise, it would

have taken them longer to transfer the data than it would have to work on it, Murphy said.

That might not be such an unusual story. Employees at Sandia National Laboratories have another problem with the mix of platforms they must work with, particularly on the business side of the organization, where Unix applications might be used alongside Microsoft Corp. Windows applications.

The answer, according to Mark Gutscher, project leader for Unix system administration at Sandia, is that many workers simply have two workstations at their desk, one Unix and one Windows PC.

So is there a demand for SAN file sharing? Definitely, according to Murphy. In Gutscher's view, however, perhaps it's more a matter of whatever works.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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