Fibre Channel Support for SANs Due in 2000

"The cost of managing storage can be significantly greater than the initial investment. SAN has promised to reduce that by making it the same interface for all your storage," says IBM's Larry Connoy.

In preparation for the growing versatility of enterprise storage solutions, IBM will introduce Fibre Channel support on the AS/400 during the second half of 2000. This support is expected to help IBM compete with other storage industry giants--such as Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer Corp. and EMC Corp.--in the storage area network (SAN) market.

AS/400 Fibre Channel support will be achieved through enhancements to OS/400, a new I/O adapter that supports the Fibre Channel interface and "all the firmware that goes along with that," says Larry Connoy, storage solutions manager for IBM's AS/400 Division.

Additional components required to implement Fibre Channel and SAN technology are likely to come from OEM relationships between IBM and third-party solutions providers. Pathlight Technology Inc., an Ithaca, N.Y.-based provider of SAN solutions, currently provides IBM with the SAN gateway technology necessary to offer Fibre Channel connectivity between enterprise storage servers and enterprise platforms.

Peter Passaretti, VP of OEM sales for Pathlight, says that once Fibre Channel support becomes available to the AS/400, he can foresee his company OEMing a SAN data gateway to be used on that platform.

The essential advantage that Fibre Channel brings to the AS/400 market is the extension of existing backup and storage capabilities across a greater physical distance, from 25 meters to 10 kilometers. "There's a big benefit there as far as planning for system layout," Connoy says. "There are customers today that don't have enough physical room, based on the 25 meters, to support all of the their devices." The ability to traverse greater distances also facilitates security and protects from natural disasters, as companies can lock up their storage devices at remote locations.

Fibre Channel support is also a component of optimizing IBM's enterprise storage server offerings, particularly the new Shark ESS. IBM's plan is for the Shark to form the central repository for SANs that provide storage sharing across the company's full line of enterprise servers, including AS/400.

IBM provides Fibre Channel connections to the Shark through its SAN data gateway device, a product OEMed from Pathlight. The gateway allows multiple hosts to connect to storage peripherals, essentially enabling the SAN. "[IBM's ESS] has 16- and 32-port configurations, and the SAN data gateway allows multiple SCSI ports to connect to multiple Fibre Channel ports in a very high-speed fashion," Passaretti says. "The Shark naturally supports ESCON and SCSI connectivity."

Connoy points out that SAN technology will not appeal to all AS/400 installations. For the most part, SANs will strike a chord with some of the larger AS/400 customers that have many different types of servers in their enterprise. "One of the benefits of a SAN is you have one storage subsystem that you manage, you're not managing unique storage subsystems for each server type," he says.

Another benefit, according to Connoy, is that businesses can more easily develop a consistent disaster recovery plan for their enterprises. "The cost of managing storage can be significantly greater than the initial investment," he says. "SAN has promised to reduce that by making it the same interface for all your storage."

The profile of an AS/400 candidate for SAN implementation is a shop with multiple, high-end server types and a need to simplify complex storage management in their enterprise. "One of the benefits of SAN is that storage is reusable, it's not unique to the server," Connoy points out. "You can have a pool of unused storage, and assign that to servers as they need additional storage, you don't have to stock or order unique disk files for each system type. For customers looking for central storage management, SAN is a good deal, but that is not the majority of AS/400 customers."

Passaretti sees a much broader market for SANs in the AS/400 world. "[SAN technology] will envelop the entire scope," he says. "You'll have SANs in lower-end environments because it's an easy way to connect newer peripherals. Everybody's got a peripheral in their network today that's doing some storage."

On the higher end, AS/400 network administrators with multiple storage elements will want to connect those devices so they can be shared within the same environment, according to Passaretti. "SAN is a perfect way to do that," he adds. "I see SANs from the high end of the AS/400, all the way down to the low end of AS/400."