Managing unified networking and storage fabric: Who's in charge?

When it comes to managing unified fabric, the jury is out on who's in charge. FCoE switches and adapters have LAN and SAN elements and can be managed by existing network or storage interfaces. But the two teams have very different approaches.

In the first part of this series, we discussed the basic technology and benefits of a  unified data center fabric.

In the second part, we explained data center bridging and FCoE implementation. Now, we examine the management of a unified networking and storage fabric and who controls FCoE switches and adapters.

The components used in a unified fabric have elements of both LAN and SAN technologies. Consequently, the LAN features of unified fabrics are managed in the same way as they are in traditional LAN environments, and the SAN features are managed in the same way as they are in traditional SAN environments. That means the jury is out on which part of the IT team – storage, networking or data center – will be in charge of managing the unified fabric.

Not only do both teams have the ability to manage these components, but in many cases, they will be working on the same equipment from different angles.
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Existing tools work for unified networking and storage fabric management

Both networking and storage teams have the ability to manage data center bridging (DCB) or Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) switches. The same goes for "converged" or "unified" adapters and storage devices that participate in this unified fabric. These components have both Ethernet and FCoE (and FC) intelligence on-board and have been designed to use existing management interfaces for their respective LAN and SAN functions. For example, VLANs operate in the same way in unified fabrics as they do in traditional Ethernet fabrics, and Fibre Channel zoning is performed in the same way as with traditional Fibre Channel networks. Most existing management tools work in a unified networking and storage fabric setting.

So who's in charge of a unified networking and storage fabric?

Not only do both teams have the ability to manage these components, but in many cases, they will be working on the same equipment from different angles. For example, in managing an FCoE switch, the LAN and SAN administrators will perform their respective functions on the same piece of equipment.

More on unified networking and storage fabric
Unified data center fabric: A primer

Implementing FCoE and data center bridging

So the question of who is in charge depends more on the organizational structure of an enterprise than on technology. In some IT shops, network administrators and the storage administrators work in the same department; in others, they report through a different chain of command. In either event, it is crucial that the two groups understand a little about the other's area of expertise in order to view the bigger picture of data center management and then align to form a joint plan.

Networking vs. storage style in managing a unified fabric: Oil meets water

Understanding the operating styles of the two groups is another key to managing a converged or unified fabric. Typically, the networking group is accustomed to operating in a very dynamic environment, where changes come more frequently. It is common in this group to temporarily disconnect cables in order to determine which components are connected. By contrast, the storage group typically operates in a more fixed environment, where changes are less frequent and cables cannot be disconnected without pre-planning because applications expect uninterrupted access to storage. In a unified setting, the groups will have to come up with an agreed-upon course for troubleshooting, scheduled downtime and management.

Who owns unified networking and storage components?

With unified components, the question of department ownership and budget may arise. For example, does a converged Ethernet/DCB/FCoE switch "belong" to the LAN group or the SAN group? Who owns the unified adapters -- the LAN group, the SAN group or even the server group? How are purchase, lease, maintenance and other related expenses handled for these shared components? These types of questions need to be addressed, but they are not new for IT shops. There are currently other shared components, and there have been other points of technology convergence in the past, among them email and voicemail, and analog and digital telephony.

These management issues are important to understand and should be cause for strategizing, but they are not show-stoppers for embracing a unified network and storage fabric.

About the author: Dennis Martin is the founder and President of  Demartek, a computer industry analyst organization with its own on-site test lab. Demartek focuses on lab validation testing and performance testing of storage and related hardware and software products. Dennis has been working in the Information Technology industry since 1980, primarily involved in software development and project management in mainframe, UNIX, and Windows environments. These include a variety of large and small end-user customers, and engineering and marketing positions for storage vendors such as StorageTek. His current  speaking schedule is available.


This was first published in February 2010

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