IBM, Compaq, and Datacore Work on a World of Virtual Storage

Asenterprise storage needs grow, management of the multiplying storage devices isbecoming increasingly complicated. IBM and Compaq plan to releasevirtualization products this year to simplify storage management, whileDatacore plans to continue to upgrade and improve its virtualization productalready on the market.

Late lastyear, IBM announced StorageTank, an upcoming software product for centralizedstorage management that integrates SAN and NAS devices from a variety ofvendors into a single pool.

“[StorageTank]allows all of our customers to use all of their devices in their networktogether in a single pool,” says Mike Harrison, director of storage businessalliances [at IBM]. Customers who have deployed SANs and NAS devices oftenfound that each solution needs to be managed individually or on a by-vendorbasis.

Inaddition, SAN and NAS devices are often deployed for different needs, indifferent parts of the network. This also makes management a challenge. “Thedirection here is clear: It is not limited to SAN, it is not limited to NAS,”Harrison says. Despite the differences in topology, Harrison believes customerswill want to pool and centrally manage different devices.

IBM says amultivendor strategy is critical to the StorageTank initiative. This is a shotat vendors such as EMC that provide monolithic storage solutions with hardwareand software that sometime [[aren’t]] interoperable with other vendors. “Theintent is to go to market with partners on this one,” Harrison says.

Compaq is akey IBM partner in the storage arena. Harris says StorageTank will leverage thecooperation between IBM and Compaq. The VersaStor storage virtualizationtechnology Compaq is developing promises to expand the ability of users to poolstorage. “VersaStor and StorageTank are complementary products,” Harrison says.“VersaStor works at the block level, while the StorageTank is very much at thefile level.”

VersaStor,when it is released this year, will enable administrators to pool SAN storagedevices, creating logical volumes independent of physical devices.

“Itpresents users with a single interface for managing the storage pool,” saysGary Wright, Open SAN director at Compaq. With VersaStor users can access andmanage storage through a console, rather than through the servers that own thedevices. Organizations that have opted to pool much of their storage into asingle data center will benefit from the GUI-based management.

VersaStoralso handles disaster-recovery chores, helping to move data to tape or otherbackup media. Compaq plans to offer a native snapshot utility with VersaStor.When users back up the SAN, the software briefly freezes the system and createsa point-in-time snapshot of storage systems. This is used to create a backup ofthe system. Wright says the snapshot system allows maximum uptime for users whoneed data readily available around the clock. Third-party vendors of backup andrecovery software will create “writers,” which use the snapshot to move data tosecondary storage.

VersaStorrequires a dedicated server appliance to assign disk arrays to VersaStor. Theserver appliance manages the block-level data, pushing it around the SAN formaximum availability and reliability.

BecauseVersaStor performs so many low-level tasks, users will need specialized hostbus adapters (HBA) to run VersaStor. The HBAs are hard-wired with agents thatcommunicate with the software. Compaq says it has broad support from HBAvendors, including QLogic Corp., JNI Corp., and Emulex Corp.

Harrison saysIBM expects to release products based on StorageTank technologies in the secondhalf of 2001. The company has not decided whether the products will be brandedas IBM or through its Tivoli line of storage and network management software.

DataCoreSoftware released an update to its SANsymphony product. Like Compaq’sVersaStor, SANsymphony is a block-level storage virtualization tool for SANs,but unlike VersaStor, it is software only.

SANsymphonyneeds agents on servers to operate, but it can work with any HBA: the agentsare software-based. In addition, administrators can use a stock Windows 2000machine as a SANsymphony server, rather than a dedicated appliance.

DataCoresays it plans to extend SANsymphony from a storage virtualization product to asingle point of management for SANs. “There is a lot of different gear that cango into SANs from a lot of different vendors,” says Augie Gonzalez, marketingmanager at DataCore.

One newfeature in SANsymphony is simplified switch administration. Users can configurezoning through the SANsymphony GUI and the software can detect portsautomatically. “Boot-and-go” offers administrators faster recovery afterdisasters by managing points of failure on the SAN.

SANsymphonycan also dynamically reassign hardware on the SAN for better performance. If anHBA has problems, the software can switch to another card. SANsymphony addedfeatures for managing caches, too, improving the time it takes for storage tomove from the SAN to the server.

With theimpending release of VersaStor, some small vendors might worry about competing witha giant like Compaq. DataCore, however, sees the plus side of having a hugecompetitor in the niche it currently owns. “Compaq is generating interest in usright now,” Gonzalez says. In DataCore’s view, the marketing muscle Compaq andIBM are putting into storage virtualization can only increase the demand forproducts.

IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.,

CompaqComputer Corp., Houston,

DataCoreSoftware Corp., Ft.Lauderdale, Fla.

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