IBM to sleep with the enemy, preps new storage line

Sneak Peak: Virtually here

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IBM is starting to look a lot more like its rivals.

The company has prepped a new line of storage virtualization products that should help it go up against the likes of Sun Microsystems and EMC and also help its users manage hardware made by different vendors.

The IBM TotalStorage Virtualization Family will include various software and hardware products, but the first two coming to market are the SAN Volume Controller and SAN Integration Server, our sources reveal.

The end goal of these types of products is to create an abstracted layer between all of the servers and storage systems in a network. IBM, along with its rivals, wants to push users toward managing a large virtual disk and/or a large virtual set of processors instead of fiddling with individual boxes.

This should help companies make better use of the servers and storage they have and make administration easier, as users can control a wide range of hardware from one console. In addition, many of the pain-staking tasks admins have to go through to shift data around a network should be automated with these new types of virtualization products.

The hype surrounding any type of virtualization product, be it in the server or storage world, is incredible. Based on what vendors are saying, users have a world of ease waiting at their fingertips. For some reason, however, users still complain to us about getting a SAN (storage area network) running. Most have yet to entertain the idea of creating this magical "pool of resources."

But there are, at least, some products in existence to back up the vendors' words.

Sun has already started shipping its N1 Provisioning Server that creates a single view of all the servers in a network and helps administrators shuffle applications across the hardware. The company also has its N1 Data Platform, which is a type of intelligent switch that can see storage hardware from various vendors be it servers, switches or HBAs (host bus adapters).

Other companies such as EMC and Veritas have some sophisticated SAN management software for creating this magical, virtual pool of data. IBM's approach appears to be a mix between Sun and the software crowd.

The SAN Volume Controller system has been designed to create an abstracted layer for LUN (logical unit number) management above the disk controller level. This makes it possible to create a type of virtual disk that spans across multiple storage servers. Once the virtual disk is created, users can set policies for the type of performance they want for a given volume by telling it what type of server the information should reside on and what class of disks should be used.

The overall goal is manage various storage systems from one console without having to worry as much about configuring the underlying hardware.

The system, which The Register discovered last month, runs on a Linux 2.4 kernel and includes two "storage engines." IBM has built the product to work in pairs with the two nodes working as a cluster so that data written to the systems will be duplicated across caches. IBM will expand to four-node clusters at launch.

The SAN Volume Controller is targeted at customers with existing SANs. It should ship in July and will include an IBM Intel-based server front end. The hardware and software together should start at $75,000.

The SAN Integration Server is aimed at customers with departmental systems and new SANs. It is basically a pre-configured SAN in a can.

It includes two Fibre Channel switches, an Ethernet hub, up to 13 dual RAID controllers, up to 39 disk enclosures and up to 728 disk drives. IBM will use its FAStT model 600 and 700 storage servers along with Brocade switches as the key hardware in the configuration. IBM will start selling the SAN Integration Server, which includes a SAN Volume Controller in the package, in August.

In addition, IBM plans to bring out its long awaited TotalStorage SAN File system - code-named Storage Tank- to manage data sharing across multi-vendor gear. A beta program for Shark has started, and IBM plans to deliver the file system by December.

The products in IBM's virtualization line are built to work with servers running various operating systems, including Windows NT, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Red Hat Linux Advanced Server, AIX, HP-UX and Solaris. Although, AIX servers are the only ones available thus far.

On initial release, these servers will only be able to work with IBM's FAStT and Shark storage arrays. Support for other vendors' storage hardware is planned for later 2003. Brocade, McData and InRange switches are supported. ®

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