The initial adoption of SAN technology was promoted by Compaq, Sun, and other vendors in the form of small arbitrated loop storage networks. Typically configured with two or more servers, a Fibre Channel loop hub, and a large storage array, these early SANs found homes in top tier enterprises for mission-critical business applications.
Although there were some early adopters in Asia, the vast majority of SAN installations occurred in the U.S. and Europe. Since then, SANs have matured to large configurations based on switched fabrics, and SAN adoption has expanded to Asia, South America, Central America, the Middle East, and Africa.
In addition, multi-national companies, seeing the value of SANs for their data centers, have begun deploying SAN solutions throughout global enterprises. SANs have gone international, both serving and linking disparate parts of the world.
America Trailing on the Technology Curve?
One might expect that the U.S., the birthplace of most SAN technology, would maintain a technical advantage over others. The reality, however, is that in China, India, and other less developed countries, technologists are sophisticated implementers of SAN solutions and are often equally if not more astute than their American counterparts.
This is in part due to the global presence of many U.S. storage networking vendors, which have cultivated local technical talent to service the local geographies, and in part due to the greater focus on technical and scientific education in China and other countries. In addition, Silicon Valley is a true multi-national community, with enhanced technical skills flowing into and out of a major capital of SAN product development.
Lack of Legacy Infrastructure to Inhibit Adoption of SANs
A lack of legacy technology and infrastructure in countries such as China has also proven to be a facilitator for adoption of advanced technologies. In China, for example, the lack of pervasive landline phone systems has accelerated the adoption of cell phones and wireless technology. Unhampered by investments in older systems, Chinese businesses and institutions can build highly efficient infrastructures based on state-of-the-art technologies. As a consequence, SANs are quickly infiltrating Chinese industries, meeting little resistance from entrenched direct-attached storage (DAS) installations.
In the U.S. and Europe, by contrast, extensive deployments of applications on DAS often present an obstacle to additional investments in SAN technology, even when the customer recognizes that SANs have a much better long-term return on investment (ROI). Customers must sometimes wait until DAS investments have been written off the books (or come to the end of a lease) before authorizing new spending on more efficient SAN solutions.
Higher Education and Lower Cost of Living
Support for higher education in Asia is also an accelerator for adoption of advanced technologies. Despite efforts to simplify SAN implementation and management, SANs remain a complex architecture and require enhanced skill sets for proper design, implementation, and support. On a trip to China, I was fortunate to work with a value-added reseller (VAR) whose entire staff held advanced doctoral and masters degrees, ranging from computer science to advanced mathematics. State-sponsored higher education, which generates a huge pool of technical talent, is in stark contrast to university opportunities in the U.S., which tend to be prohibitively expensive, very competitive at the graduate level, and grossly under-funded in terms of scholarships and grants.
A lower cost of living in some parts of Asia and India has spawned new outsourcing for SAN technology development, particularly embedded software and SAN management applications. In India, for example, U.S. vendors have taken advantage of lower wages and created their own Indian development centers. Others are leveraging third-party application development companies in India to supplement internal projects.
At a recent storage conference in Mumbai (Bombay), I was approached by a half dozen third-party development companies about outsourcing opportunities. Although outsourcing is just capitalism doing its normal, unattractive job of getting more for less, the positive outcome is that the local programmers and developers gain additional practical experience that will enhance their value over time and make them a key component of technology evolution.
Linking Enterprises and Cultures Across National Boundaries
SAN technology is also playing a critical role in linking enterprises across national boundaries, particularly for the sharing of storage data and storage assets over thousands of miles. While it was inconceivable to think of spanning continents for disaster recovery and remote tape vaulting a few years ago, today’s IP SAN technology can drive storage data virtually any distance. This makes it possible to replicate data between Asia and Europe or the U.S., and brings all regions of an extended enterprise into a comprehensive storage strategy.
The proliferation of technology worldwide is helping to dissolve national barriers in terms of intellectual property, skills, and technical infrastructures. Unlike globalization, which is often faulted for promoting mono-culture (McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, etc.) and First World advantage, the spread of advanced technologies such as SANs becomes an enabler for more rapid and independent local economic development.
In countries that are undergoing unprecedented economic growth, such as China, new industries are being built on sophisticated IT infrastructures such as SANs that provide efficient data organization and lower cost of operation. This fulfills one of the key goals of technology acquisition and spreads the benefits of SANs across the globe.