SANsymphony Pools Heterogeneous Devices

SANs often rely on the assumption that all storage devices will be identical, making it near impossible to employ established devices into a new SAN. DataCore Software Corp., however, has a product that may allow administrators interested in SANs to integrate some of their current devices into a SAN.

DataCore’s (www.dcs-ware.com) first product, SANsymphony, converts islands of dissimilar storage into a networked storage pool. This allows administrators to integrate resident devices into the pool.

"We convert discrete storage into shared storage," says Brownell Chalstrom, vice president of marketing at DataCore. Chalstrom believes a large pool of shared storage is more efficient than dedicating devices to particular applications.

Once SANsymphony is in place, hardware is treated like a uniform array of devices, so administrators can partition storage without worrying about the hardware. Chalstrom points out that the pool can scale for particular applications with a few configurations.

SANsymphony runs on Windows NT and Windows 2000 systems, and it allows administrators remote access to the software. "We add the ability to manage storage on the network," Chalstrom says. Unlike black box solutions, which employ proprietary hardware and operating systems, SANsymphony uses a standard drag and drop interface and hardware.

DataCore partnered with Gadzoox Inc. (www.gadzoox.com) to ensure interoperability between SANsymphony and Gadzoox’s line of Fibre Channel switches. The storage devices are controlled by the Gadzoox switch as a SANsymphony server sends instructions to the switch.

John Webster, an analyst with the Illuminata Group (www.illuminata.com), says SANsymphony’s greatest value lies in its data sharing features. Ideally, a SAN should transparently share files between servers. There is, however, the issue of when two or more servers want to view the same file at the same time. SANsymphony obviates these issues with its data sharing features.

Servers can request a file, put it in local memory, then offer the file to a second server, allowing more efficient data sharing across the network. SANsymphony runs on commodity NT boxes, but any kind of server can access the SAN. This is particularly important for administrators with heterogeneous environments.

E-businesses that need high availability databases will likely benefit from the data sharing features, since it allows a profusion of users to access data at the same time. "In any vertical industry there will be an application for data sharing," Webster says.

Chalstrom points to EMC Corp.’s (www.emc.com) Connectrix SAN management switch and Quantum Corp.’s (www.quantum.com) Snap NAS devices as competitive products at the high and low ends. Each of these devices provide automated management of SAN devices, but they are what Chalstrom calls "box" solutions, since functionality is performed through firmware. "We add the ability to manage storage on the network," he says. SANsymphony allows remote access across the network.

Remote management aside, Webster believes Chalstrom is selling SANsymphony short by comparing the product to box solutions. "Connectrix is a switch, a large switch, but it has no innate intelligence," he explains. Webster says the software combined with a switch has functionality that exceeds mere pooling and switching.

"This is a pretty disruptive technology," Chalstrom suggests, citing both the reconfiguration needed for a SANsymphony deployment and the threat it presents to current storage paradigms. Now that users can pool and share storage on a large scale, they can rethink their relationship with their current devices. Webster agrees, saying, "They were the first out of the gate with this technology."