Heterogeneous SANs? Tivoli Fills in the OS Piece

A major knock on storage area networks (SANs) in the enterprise is that there isn’t an easy way to let users pool data controlled by different operating systems on the same disk array or tape library.

This month, Tivoli Systems Inc. (www.tivoli.com) is answering that issue with server software it calls Tivoli SANergy File Sharing.

"It provides the simplicity of network attached storage or file servers at the speed of a SAN," says Troy Pladson, director of strategy marketing and business development at Tivoli.

The Tivoli software consists of two tiers. The brain of the solution is a SANergy metadata controller, server software that can run on Windows 2000/NT or Sun Solaris. Workstations and application servers attached to the SAN run as clients via a SANergy agent, and those systems can run Windows 2000/NT, Sun Solaris, IBM AIX, Compaq Tru-64, SGI Irix, or Apple Mac OS.

The SANergy metadata controller server formats the disks in a SAN array, understands the transmission or network file protocols used by the different operating systems, and owns all the data. Requests from SAN-connected workstations or application servers hit the SANergy server, which checks permissions and file locking status, and, if everything checks out, serves the file at Fibre Channel speeds. SANergy can throw an NT file next to a Solaris file next to an AIX file on the same disk without any complex partitioning.

According to Tivoli, benefits to this approach include allowing multiple computers to simultaneously share the same storage devices, the file systems on those devices, and the same files on those devices. It enables heterogeneous SANs with respect to operating systems; it simplifies disk administration by eliminating the need to repartition or reassign storage as the requirements of applications on different operating systems change; and it improves LAN performance by routing data over the SAN.

Storage software analyst Steve Widen of the market research firm IDC (www.idc.com) says the Tivoli software brings new capability to the enterprise SAN. "It’s the ability to be able to truly share the data. In a lot of cases, you really couldn’t before," Widen says. "The other key is that it works under the whole Tivoli storage management framework."

Tivoli didn’t invent the multiplatform file sharing technology, but it enhanced it with enterprise reliability features and will market the software to the enterprise for the first time. Mercury Computer Systems had been selling the software since September 1998 to media markets, such as video imaging and editing and pre-press. On Jan. 15, Tivoli acquired the company.

In the three months since the acquisition, Tivoli added support for the Windows 2000 and Compaq Tru-64 platforms, added clustering support on Solaris and Windows to make the metadata controller server more reliable for enterprise customers, and put the software through enterprise reliability and performance testing. The finished software, which will ship April 28, carries the Tivoli name and version number 2.1. Pladson says Tivoli’s next moves in platform support will likely extend SANergy to Linux and HP-UX.

In addition to its engineering experience, Tivoli brings its marketing experience to the product. Pladson says Tivoli will continue to sell SANergy into media markets, but the autonomous IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) division will target manufacturing and medical imaging customers, and make a major push for enterprise customers.

Key enterprise uses for the software will be in consolidating file servers into SAN-attached server farms for improved performance, simplicity of use for end users, and simplicity of administration for IT, Pladson predicts. Another potential use for SANergy in the enterprise is to undergird Web server farms.

IDC's Widen says this announcement is the first of many his firm expects to hear from Tivoli over the next six months to a year. The market direction is moving toward application-focused SAN environments where users of different platforms running the same application can share application files. "What you’re really going to see over time is close integration with applications like Oracle or Domino," he says. "Customers today are really looking at a total solution [around a particular application]. If you have a bunch of users out there on different systems, in theory, everybody can access the same file."