Data storage issues have always been with us. Not long ago, getting more storage space meant purchasing an extra filing cabinet or two. Within an office, documents were transferred via sneaker Net, and sharing data with remote offices meant utilizing the United States Postal Service.

Today, information storage needs are greater and more complex. Data stored electronically still tends to pile up, requiring new and better ways to organize and access it. At the same time, the pace of business means workers must be able to share files with colleagues across town or around the world in the blink of an eye. And this must be accomplished in a cost-effective and secure manner. Fortunately, there are a number of technologies available or on the horizon designed to fill those needs.

Share and Share Alike

"Government tends to be, by its very nature, geographically dispersed," said Mark Cree, general manager of the storage router business unit for Cisco Systems. Cree said departments have a propensity to maintain their own storage pool of duplicate and unique data, a practice that can be expensive. "You need to consolidate storage to reduce the total cost of ownership," he said.

Enter the storage area network (SAN). Instead of keeping a copy of shared data at each regional office, information can now be stored centrally on a bank of servers that are easier to secure and maintain. However, all of this data is of no benefit if users cannot access it.

Previously, this meant installing a fiber channel network, an option that is expensive and geographically limited. Now, organizations are finding ways to communicate with their SANs over existing Internet Protocol networks, a practice deemed IP-based storage.

"IP-based storage is gaining," said John Webster, an analyst with Illuminata. He cites its extended reach, which allows it to connect even smaller servers in remote locations, as a reason for the surge in its popularity. "I see that developing fairly rapidly," he said.

IP-based storage networking uses an organization's existing network to access the SAN, reducing reliance on fiber channel technology. IP-based storage can also bridge the gaps between existing fiber-channel networks. Blanca Gomez, marketing manager for Adaptec, said IP-based storage allows an organization to "leverage [their] existing infrastructure," delivering data over an IP network from fiber-channel network to fiber-channel network. A standard called Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) makes this possible. Once this standard, written by Cisco and IBM, is ratified in early 2002, organizations will be able to access a SAN over their IP network using a storage router.

Ram Jayam, vice president and general manager of the storage-networking group at Adaptec, believes that agencies will know when they are ready to adopt IP-based storage for their organization. "If you are storing a lot of data and need it 24/7, you're ready for IP storage," he said.

Metro-optical networking is another option for increasing the ease of data storage and sharing. This technology makes use of fiber-optic networks already in existence in major cities such as New York and Philadelphia. Because fiber carries light, it can be segmented into up to 32 colors, each of which can carry a different stream of data. "The initial capital investment is pretty hefty," Cree said, but he believes governments will adopt metro-optical networking because of its high level of security and scalability.

Working Together

Installing any kind of storage architecture will entail a significant financial investment. This is where the Storage Networking Lab comes in. Hosted by Imation, the lab is vendor-neutral and contains over 140 pieces of equipment that allow organizations to test a storage architecture before committing to purchase. "A SAN can have 10 vendors, each of [which] individually says, 'This will work,'" said Bill Peldzus, storage consulting marketing manager for Imation. By renting time in the lab, either with or without the