Shark Swims to the Deep End of Storage Serving

The AS/400e Dedicated Server for Domino isn't the only IBM announcement expected to make waves on September 24. That day, IBM will also make generally available its "Shark" Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), a high-end solution that can attach to IBM's full entourage of enterprise servers, including AS/400, S/390, RS/6000 and Windows NT.

Capable of holding from 420 gigabytes up to 11 terabytes of data, Shark will feature two four-way symmetric multiprocessors (SMPs), Serial Storage Architecture (SSA) and large cache with additional nonvolatile (battery-backed) memory. In addition to working with Fibre Channel, Shark will be able to operate via ESCON, SCSI and Ultra SCSI interfaces. Other features include Peer-to-Peer Copy (PPRC) and FlashCopy functions, and Parallel Access Volumes technology.The Shark is the first offering in IBM's ESS line that can attach to any or all IBM platforms, according to Andy Hurter, business line manager for disk storage systems in IBM's Storage Systems Division. "One of the Shark's greatest attributes is that within the same physical box the user can have data that represents AS/400 data, Unix, NT or mainframe," Hurter says. "Users can keep all of that data within a single ESS footprint."

Powered by an IBM PowerPC microprocessor, custom logic (ASICs), memory (SRAM and SDRAM) and advanced packaging, the Shark will use management software supplied by IBM's Storage Systems Division (SSD) as well as its Tivoli unit to incorporate a range of intelligent storage functions.

"With the announcement of the Enterprise Storage Server, IBM has re-established itself as a serious contender in the storage systems marketplace," says John McArthur, program director with International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass.). "Its high availability and high performance, combined with support for Unix, NT, NetWare, OS/400 and OS/390 environments, prove IBM is back in the game."

The Shark builds upon the Storage Area Network (SAN) initiative IBM announced on June 22, a strategy that will prove more applicable to higher-end AS/400 customers with complex connectivity schemes and multiple server types in their networks, according to Hurter.

SANs are being positioned as IT's answer to the problem of maintaining countless volumes of information harvested from the ever-expanding annals of e-business. In fact, IBM estimates that by the year 2002, 70 percent of all medium- and large-sized customers will implement SANs to better manage and share the volumes of data created as they transform themselves into e-businesses.

Though the AS/400 is not yet SAN-ready, this will come with the introduction of Fibre Channel support late next year. Fibre Channel connectivity is not required to connect enterprise servers to the Shark, but Fibre Channel technology does more to optimize the capabilities of this new ESS than SCSI or other methods of attachment.

While SAN and Fibre Channel are hot topics at the moment, much of the market is still in the early stages of planning to use this technology, according to Hurter. One of the benefits of the Shark ESS is that it accommodates early adopters of Fibre Channel technology but also provides a migration path from SCSI or Ultra SCSI.

"When considering the Shark as a replacement for existing AS/400 disk storage technology, it gets down to what the buyer is really trying to accomplish within their own organization," Hurter points out. "If this is a stand-alone AS/400--a single AS/400 implementation--the answer is highly unlikely that the enterprise storage server would be in an appropriate piece of technology for that kind of environment."

The Shark and SAN technology will thrive in the AS/400 market in environments where multiple AS/400s or a combination of AS/400 and other enterprise servers can share storage space.

When considering a SAN implementation, Hurter says the IT shop must keep in mind three areas: the network plumbing, e.g. routers, switches, hubs and other devices used to transfer data; storage management software; and services and support. The software that ships with Shark is StorWatch, IBM's family of Enterprise Storage Resource Management (ESRM) solutions designed to help the user manage the ESS, whether or not it is in a SAN.