Today's workers want faster computing speeds and more storage, management wants it all under budget, and IT professionals are scrambling to save money and improve productivity. The tools of choice to achieve these goals are typically virtualisation, cloud computing and data centre consolidation, but IT may be overlooking a simple but effective fix: storage area network (SAN) and local area network (LAN) convergence.

If you recently upgraded your SAN or LAN switch, you probably have the capability to converge SAN and LAN. In fact, some IT shops may not be aware that their new hardware has the convergence feature built in.

Traditionally, servers are positioned with a SAN switch on one side and a LAN switch on the other. The converged setup combines the switches into one unit and enables you to remove one of the switches (most often the SAN switch).

SAN/LAN convergence could be right for your data centre, but how do you sell the idea to management? The benefits are clear: convergence reduces and simplifies gear while providing faster speeds in the data centre.

Quick fix with great benefits

Reducing your switch count has an immediate benefit: reduced cost. It costs approximately $3,000 to maintain one switch for a year, and convergence can eliminate half that expenditure. Organisations can also save on power, cooling and management costs with SAN/LAN convergence.

An often overlooked benefit: convergence reduces the number of cables going in and out of the server, which is a real boon. Servers can have eight, 10, 12 or even more cables coming out of them due to various speed links, virtual LANs, redundancy and SAN links. With a converged setup organisations can support the same amount of traffic but with just two cables. Simplifying cables makes working with data centre gear much easier.

In addition, convergence enables organisations to upgrade from 1 gigabit cables to 10 gigabit cables, providing increased speed.

Getting started: First steps for implementation

You will normally look at moving to a converged setup when one of two events occur. The first is the shift to a virtualised environment. Virtual servers perform better with a high-speed link connecting them, and since most converged switches support 10 gigabits, SAN/LAN convergence fixes the high-speed connection problem.

The second event is replacing a legacy SAN switch. This transition can be easy, as the converged switches support the normal SAN technologies of Fibre Channel and Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI). Running cables to different places can easily achieve the new design.

Once you have made the decision to converge SAN and LAN switches, you need a plan. You must know what virtualisation, speed and storage requirements you have today, and it is also important to look a few years into the future and predict those needs. While many of the converged switches are scalable, you can avoid a solution that does not fit that vision.

Watch out for pitfalls

When executing SAN/LAN convergence, ideally you should have an idea about your data centre needs for the next five years because the solution should last for five or more years. Failing to plan ahead could mean problems down the line, such as having to rebuy gear when the proper gear could have been purchased the first time.

Another issue that is sometimes overlooked is a clear initial understanding of how your organisation manages SAN and LAN. Determine that and then look at how that will change after the convergence. For example, organisations will often have a SAN administrator and a LAN administrator, and with convergence they will be required to work together to manage the network. In addition, because SAN/LAN convergence consolidates network traffic, there will likely be less maintenance involved so resources can be freed up to work on other items.

Be prepared: Parting tips

While SAN/LAN convergence provides many benefits, keep the following in mind:

  • Identify stakeholders: Identify all departments that will be affected by convergence and secure their buy in. Doing so will ensure that the implementation isn't just a technical success, but an organisational success as well.
  • Virtualise: If your organization is using server virtualisation, make sure the virtualisation team is involved with the implementation.
  • Secure the budget: While SAN/LAN convergence is a relatively inexpensive fix, it is important to make sure the money is there. Typically, it will cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to move to a 10 port, 20 gigabit switch.
  • Phased approach: When considering the cost and IT staff's time needed for SAN/LAN convergence, remember that the implementation can be done in phases.
  • Get help: Reach out to trusted solutions provider to advise about SAN/LAN convergence and its implementation.