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IBM gives SAN File System a second try

Getting there... slowly

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After enduring a flop of massive proportions, IBM customers will be pleased to know that a second version of the SAN File System, due out next month, will actually approach the grandiose promises once planned for version one of the software.

IBM has set a 29 June delivery date for Version 2.1 of the infamous Storage Tank product - now known by its official SAN File System name. The latest iteration of the code will let administrators manage IBM storage gear and - get this - hardware from EMC, HP and Hitachi from one console. Storage fiends will recall that IBM had for many moons billed SAN File System as the answer to multivendor storage management, only to disappoint world+dog by releasing an IBM-only version of the product last year.

"The IBM TotalStorage SAN File System is reinventing the way information is filed, managed, shared and accessed in an organization," said Brian Truskowski, general manager of IBM's storage software. "With the enhanced capabilities we are announcing today, the IBM TotalStorage SAN File System is an unparalleled addition to the storage industry."

Today's "enhanced capabilities" or not, IBM has long promoted SAN File System as an unparalleled addition to the storage industry. In fact, it has described the product in these lofty terms apparently with total disregard to what the software can actually do, time and again... for years... ad nauseum. You get the point.

Overall, the premise of SAN File System is impressive. It is the key software piece of IBM's entire storage virtualization effort.

The software makes it possible, in theory, to see and manage files on any storage system or server. This means administrators can, hypothetically, control a wide variety of systems from a single management console and set up policies to govern the broadest of Storage Area Networks. In total, the SAN File System, conceptually, stretches across every server in a network, providing a common software layer for administrators to work with.

With Version 2.1, IBM has removed some of the theories, hypotheticals and conceptions of SAN File System by moving past Windows and its own AIX operating system. IBM has added in support for Red Hat Linux and for storage gear from its main rivals mentioned above. In addition, when Version 2.1.1 arrives in about two months, IBM will have support for Sun's Solaris servers. Pucker.

But, while IBM promises support, support, support, SAN File System still looks a bit unsupported from where we sit. A perusal of a detailed spec sheet on the software shows more ins and outs than a Red Light district Web cam.

Users, for example, are required to use either a SuSE Linux 8 or Windows 2000 server to manage SAN File System. IBM, however, does not support SuSE Linux for actual use in the SAN File System network at this time nor does it support Windows Server 2003. In addition, IBM may now support multi-vendor storage, but its own gear is required for advanced management functions. Lastly, this odd note captured our attention: "SAN File System has limited file sharing between UNIX and Windows environments because of the difference in file access control between the two types of operating systems."

Point defeated, anyone?

Anyway, along with the new hardware/software support, IBM has improved the overall performance of SAN File System. Big Blue has boosted I/O performance and server scaling for the product and cut down on the number of messages passed between clients and servers.

IBM also has a new piece of storage hardware available. A revamped FAStT100 Storage Server now ships with dual 2Gbps RAID controllers and 512MB of cache. They system takes up 3U of rack space and starts at $11,000. ®

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