Storage area networks (SANs) appear to be climbing up the shopping list of securities industry CIOs, and have landed on top of Fleet Bostons list. As the ongoing process of consolidation in the industry grows, so does the problem of managing the vast quantities of data owned by merging firms. For financial institutions with offices around the globe, the problem is
becoming particularly acute as IT departments find themselves having to manage and back-up data on literally thousands of servers, many of them hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Add in the demands of e-commerce, which is predicted to add massively to data proliferation, and the securities industry appears to be facing something of a storage challenge.
Against that backdrop, the basic SAN concept of consolidating data storage from a multitude of machines running on a variety of hardware platforms and operating systems onto a few large data silos has obvious appeal for simplifying the management and backup tasks. The central hardware component of a SAN is a mirrored mass storage device containing multiple hard disks, to which data is sent by individual servers. The most common arrangement is for the servers to have their operating systems and applications contained on their own local storage, but to route data generated by the application to the SAN silo.
One of the most promising aspects of SANs is the sheer diversity of systems that can be attached to them, with many being able to support anything from Windows NT, to various Unix flavors, to mainframes. The means of connecting those various operating systems to the SAN is equally varied, with most SCSI variants, Fiber Channel Architecture and specialist mainframe technology such as IBMs ESCON being covered.
The merger of BankBoston and Fleet Financial Group has created the eighth largest bank in the U.S. and also a significant data consolidation challenge in which SANs will play a part. Until early last year, there was really only one viable vendor in this field and the SAN solutions being offered then were too expensive for us to cost justify, says Hemant Kurande, senior manager, treasury systems, Fleet Boston. Thats now changed and were working on implementing a SAN strategy this year, with the aim of reducing the data management overhead and the total storage cost.
The good news for securities industry firms looking to adopt SAN technology is that vendor competition is getting stronger and prices are falling. Established vendors, such as EMC, are being joined by other players such as IBM, HP/Hitachi and MTI. However, this influx of vendors has resulted in a fair amount of hype that has glossed over some of the short-term problems with SANs. A case in point is the tendency for the operating systems on the various remote servers to all attempt to seize control of the SAN storage in the assumption that it is their exclusive property, which has the potential to cause mayhem. Another factor is the lack, as yet, of common industry standards. Until these emerge, there is no guarantee that individual components from different vendors will function properly together.
Nevertheless, some are confident that widespread SANs adoption is just a matter of time. CIOs in financial markets are taking a cautious approach now, but in the longer term they see SANs as inevitably the way to go, says Randy Kerns, a partner in the Evaluator Group, a Denver-based storage consulting group. The big driver is the growth of storage, which is doubling or tripling on an annual basis and creates a potential backup nightmare. This move will in part be driven by e-commerce activities where, in the short term, network-attached storage is being used in order to add capacity quicklybut performance aspects and growth aspects will eventually drive them into adopting SANs.