Mylex Brings RAID to the AS/400

In the client/server worlds of Unix and Windows NT, storage is a sexy affair with constantly shifting paradigms and usages. But in the AS/400 space, it's more often than not so humdrum as to be taken for granted. That said, one of the most significant new storage developments in recent memory--the Storage Area Network (SAN)--has seen almost exclusive deployment in client/server environments. This may change, however, because with the introduction of its SAN Array FFx RAID controller, Mylex Corp. (Fremont, Calif.) hopes to bring some of the advantages of SANs to the AS/400 environment.

SANs function as separate and dedicated enterprise networks in which one or more storage devices connect to servers throughout an organization. SAN resources are not connected over LAN or WAN environments, but leverage an interconnect technology called Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FCAL), which offers very high performance, greater extensibility and better scalability than is available through standard SCSI-connected storage devices.

As Erik Norlander, director of marketing with the network systems group of storage vendor Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek, Louisville, Colo.) sees it, the need for efficient storage paradigms such as SANs will likely become more pressing as enterprises increasingly transition to 24x7 operations.

"The most predominant application that you're going to see SANs deployed for initially is for backup in large data environments. So you're talking about data warehousing and Web serving," Norlander says, noting that backup windows in 24x7 environments are almost nonexistent, making the need for fast, scalable storage a prerequisite.

But StorageTek and other prime movers and shakers in the storage space have traditionally developed SAN solutions for either Unix or Windows NT. Mylex's SANArray FFx, on the other hand, is a server-independent end-to-end FCAL external RAID controller that can interface with the AS/400.

According to Mylex director of marketing Suresh Panikar, the SAN Array FFx is interoperable with the AS/400 because it features a unique, two-interface design.

"The SAN Array FFx is a RAID controller that has two interfaces, one to the host--any host--and the other to the devices inside the [storage subsystem]," Panikar explains, noting that a single SAN Array FFx RAID controller can control over 250 separate drives and provide access to a whopping 18TB of storage.

In terms of performance, the SANArray FFx features the benefits of high-performance RAID 5 and can sustain a read and write streaming throughput of over 90MB per second with a single active controller. Panikar says that throughput performance increases exponentially with the addition of dual or quad active controllers.

But the AS/400 may prove a tough nut for SANs to crack, acknowledges Panikar, who admits that AS/400 administrators may not be quite so quick to leap on new technology bandwagons as their counterparts in the client/server world. In Panikar's account, however, SANs can make a definite impact in even the AS/400 space because exploding storage demands are a universal concern of administrators regardless of their environments or operating system platforms.

"The reason that SANs are becoming so popular is that there is an increase in the need to have information available at any given time, because people want their information at any time of the day and they always want it up to date, which takes a lot of storage," Panikar indicates. "And this translates to a lot of extra drives and storage subsystems that [present management problems], so the bigger these things grow, the more that you need SANs."