Information assets are widely distributed across an organisation. This leads to many opportunities and challenges to architect a network that enables easy access for users yet maintains a secure infrastructure that will protect the precious business data. The islands of data are growing as companies look to consolidate their storage resources and look for cost-effective means by which they can manage their systems. At the same time, they wish to harness the existing investment in systems and infrastructure as much as is possible. This is all leading to the need to support mixed network environments, including Fibre Channel and IP.

The need for this mixed protocol support derives from various requirements such as:

- Connecting islands of storage across the organisation to improve the sharing and flow of data, and to improve the management of and access to databases;
- Consolidating storage networks with a management regime that can be applied across different sites;
- Improve the disaster recovery and business continuity infrastructure copying data to a secure and remote location;
- Support remote backup and recovery services across different locations.

Using the iSCSI and Fibre Channel protocols
Fibre Channel is established as the prime protocol for high performance SANs, supporting large and small storage capacities. iSCSI is being implemented in distributed environments or where existing LAN infrastructures can be harnessed to manage consolidated storage resources.

Today there is a need to harness the existing IP networks as well as maintain the range of storage services required for secure management and the development of the networks must take place with minimum disruption.

The major players including Brocade, McDATA and Cisco, are offering products which enable the multiprotocol support of Fibre Channel, iSCSI and FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP), with some specialist suppliers such as CNT and Adva who also sell solutions that enable high-speed translation of the protocols and the connectivity. This provides options when configuring the required services.

Networks are the backbone of all our systems today. Overlaid will be services that support improved reliability of the network infrastructure, securing the transmission of data, and access to high-speed data protection and recovery services. These services will be embedded into the networks linking SAN islands, backup and archive tape libraries as well as network attached systems. Clearly defined policies relating to information security and access to the necessary live or archive data can be implemented across the network.

Adapting to change
The solutions that are being offered are not just technical responses to a set of technical issues. Businesses need to be responsive to change, upscaling and down scaling. Officers of the company need to ensure that their information assets are protected, with the policies and practices securing the integrity of the data and the well-being of the company which is dependent on this data.

As these policies and practices evolve, different solutions will be implemented to support the objectives of each business unit. Whether there are centralised Fibre Channel networks or distributed iSCSI networks, storage managers will be looking to apply management tools, data movement tools and security tools across their infrastructure. The multiprotocol routers will enable this interconnection, offering options as to how the infrastructure can be harnessed to meet the needs of the business.

Flexing the network and securing your information
Companies have developed mixed environments due to the need to support a wide range of business processes and today managing the resulting heterogeneous infrastructure is a major concern for all users. Policies and practices that will secure the ongoing system operations need to be synchronised with the growing demands to protect and secure data for day-to-day operations as well as for the long term, to meet with legal, regulatory and governance requirements.

Staying connected with a range of services
Developing policies and practices must address the basics as well as the more complex aspects of an IT system. For example, the backup windows are dealt with by disk-to-disk copies and snapshots while the ultimate backup to tape and then to an offsite location could be located on a central or a specific SAN depending on a number of factors such as the need for disaster recovery or more simply the devices’ footprints. The choice of data protection systems will also be influenced by their ability not to interfere with the high-response requirements of an online database, for example.

As we have come to know, even the simplest of storage requirements will need a range of services to be delivered and supported. Connecting adjacent networks may deliver a single physical network; after all the standards are in place for such interconnectivity. But where the challenges arise is with the management infrastructure. In fact, this can lead to issues of incompatibility or interoperation when moving or backing up the data, or when ensuring that only authorised users or processes have access to the networks.

For these reasons, the need for increased intelligence in the network becomes obvious. The allocation of disk resources to different users is no longer a function of the disk array, for instance. If carried out at the network level, with the appropriate virtualisation tools, it will easily enable users to support mixed-vendor environments.

Providing the support for mixed systems including mainframes, UNIX and Wintel platforms will lead to the adoption of mixed transport protocols including FICON, Fibre Channel, iSCSI, IP and Gigabit Ethernet. The challenge here is to establish a basis by which the network management can be effective and can take advantage of new developments such as 4 Gb Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet when they become available.

To this end a number of connectivity options are emerging. Firstly, across the wide area, there are the options to harness the high-speed interconnect services with SONET and CWDM protocols. Using existing IP routing and network options, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) is being deployed to link high-performance Fibre Channel networks.

In terms of SAN interconnect, there are other options available. SANs can be interlinked in a native form with Fibre Channel bridges, and with iSCSI bridges to link Fibre Channel and iSCSI networks. These are offered as separate devices such as Brocade’s Multiprotocol Router or as an option with a director switch such as those offered by Cisco, McDATA or CNT.

Finally there is also the option of linking networks through NAS heads. These devices enable users to access files resident on a SAN via the same file access protocols that would be used on a LAN. This gives yet another option for users to build an infrastructure to meet their specific needs.

Unifying the multiprotocol options
As the storage networks proliferate, the view across the organisation will demand easier and simplified management. Underpinned by security, user groups must be known and no intrusion can be permitted, features such as switch and port binding ensures that only known users have access to the defined network and attached server and storage resources. Supporting this are features such as Cisco’s VSAN or Brocade’s LSAN. This enables storage and servers to be easily managed by linking resources on different fabrics.

Networks grow, they grow in complexity and sophistication. The need is clearly to have a series of options that enable remote and local networks to interoperate securely and deliver the required service and performance levels. Inevitably, storage networks will be supporting multiple protocols. But these will need to be effectively managed to reduce complexity.