Compaq Taps StorageTek for New SAN Systems

Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek, Louisville, Colo., has teamed up with Compaq Computer Corp. on products designed to increase the manageability of storage-area networks (SANs) for high-end Windows NT systems. Research and development has already begun on several initiatives, and products will be launched as early as the end of this year. These products will include SAN switching solutions and a virtual storage server that integrates both tape and disk media.

Compaq is funding these initiatives, confirms Walt Hinton, vice president of strategy and marketing for StorageTek's enterprise operations. "StorageTek will do the engineering work, Compaq will assist with the testing, and together we'll go to market," he says. The goal of this effort is an "open-standards-based architecture and framework" that will eventually be made available to the entire industry.

The production of highly available, robust storage solutions will underpin Compaq's goal "to be a key enterprise storage player," says Nick Allen, analyst with Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.). This arrangement will be similar to StorageTek's relationship with IBM Corp., in which IBM funds and resells StorageTek high-end disk products. Allen says Compaq recognizes that StorageTek has a lot of expertise to bring from the mainframe space in terms of enterprise technologies. Compaq wants enterprise products at Compaq prices. "The switching technology that StorageTek has promises some lower storage-area network costs," says Allen.

The StorageTek-Compaq deal follows a relationship forged between Dell Computer Corp. (Round Rock, Texas, and Data General’s Clariion Business Unit (Westboro, Mass., earlier this year, which is designed to create low-cost storage products based on Fibre Channel technology.

The first products to come out of the StorageTek-Compaq agreement will address scalability requirements of Fibre Channel arbitrated loops in SAN architectures. "Today, you can plug servers and storage devices into a single hub that has a single arbitrated loop," explains StorageTek’s Hinton. While this addresses potential failure of a single node on the loop, only two nodes can interact at one time. What's missing, he says, "[is the capability] to scale up multiple loops, where any node on any loop can talk to any node on any other loop." The proposed Compaq/StorageTek solution will also provide centralized management capabilities for SANs.

The second initiative in the agreement, development of a virtual storage architecture, will not result in product for at least another year, Hinton says. "Our intent is solve a problem in backup, by marrying disk and tape together," he adds. Currently, companies back up servers with a tape drive for each -- an expensive solution and administrative hassle if problems arise, he explains. StorageTek and Compaq's plans are to "put those servers on a SAN, and create a box that is a combination of disk and tape that could run at really fast speeds to get the backup job done," says Hinton.

StorageTek, which has marketed storage solutions for mainframe and UNIX servers for a number of years, entered the Windows NT market late last year with its 9730 subsystem, a 1-TB tape library for Windows NT systems, and 9153 disk subsystem for high-end Windows NT systems.