IBM Teams With Vicom on SSA

IBM Corp., in an effort to meet the increasingly mission-critical demands on Windows NT systems, says it can now link up to 582 GB of storage on a Serial Storage Architecture (SSA) loop to a pair of clustered IBM Netfinity servers.

An arrangement announced in September with Vicom Systems Inc. (Mountain View, Calif., www.vicom.com) calls for the combination of the IBM 7133 Serial Disk System with the Vicom UltraLink 2000i for Netfinity 7000 servers. Vicom’s UltraLink 2000i, a RAID controller, creates a single loop for all the disks in up to four of the IBM 7133s, each of which is basically a drawer containing 16 8.8-GB drives. IBM’s plan to offer 18-GB individual drives before the end of 1998 will boost capacity to the terabyte range, says Bill Pinkerton, business line manager, open systems storage, IBM’s Storage Systems Division.

An important aspect of the Vicom controller is that it acts as a bridge between the SSA inside the 7133 and a SCSI cable that connects to the Netfinity servers. "Our announcement is actually targeted to SCSI-based servers. The IBM 7133 serial disk system can now be attached in a high-availability configuration such that you can have two NT servers with traditional SCSI interfaces. It allows those two NT servers to have access to 64 disks," Pinkerton says. "It’s a tremendous amount of capacity compared to what a normal SCSI connection would allow."

The Vicom controller keeps the information coursing through the SCSI cables at near capacity. "We get 18 MBps sustained over a 20 MBps [SCSI] cable. With the SSA technology, you’re just saturating the SCSI adapter back on the SCSI side," Pinkerton says.

According to IBM literature, the system allows storage users to configure a few disk drives at first and add up to 64 serial disk drives without taking operations offline. Standard SSA cables allow for up to 25 meters between the 7133 and the server; SSA fiber-optic extenders increase that distance to 2.4 km, IBM says. Big Blue claims to have an installed base of more than 50,000 7133s, but few are installed in NT environments. Under the agreement, Vicom will promote the new solution through its partner channels, and IBM will provide customer service and support in the United States.

Analyst Robert Gray with International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.) says the IBM SSA offering competes with Fibre Channel storage systems, which he says are, in general, less mature and more expensive in smaller to medium-sized configurations than SSA. "This will allow IBM NT customers to continue to employ NT in more rigorous, mission-critical situations," Gray says. "From a Netfinity point of view, this is a unique benefit that is not particularly offered on other NT servers. It’s somewhat an exclusive in the Netfinity in the NT space."

In the same storage announcement, IBM unveiled upgrades to storage management software, including a new feature of the ADSTAR Distributed Storage Manager (ADSM) called ADSM Enterprise Administration. The feature allows centralized administration of multiple ADSM servers from a Java-enabled, Web-based console located anywhere in the system.

An increasing focus on Windows NT is likely in upcoming versions of ADSM. Karen Dutch, ADSM product manager in the IBM Storage Systems Division, says IBM put together a Windows NT development team within the ADSM unit in the fourth quarter of last year and a goal is support of Windows NT 5.0. "We put one of our ADSM developers up on the Microsoft Redmond campus in December," Dutch says. The developer is "actively playing with the code to understand the new code, file systems, etc."