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IBM has rung the bell on round four of its storage virtualization software package, adding in new tools for long distance data replication, more hardware support and upgraded networking support. In total, IBM has extended its lead in this still young market for software that can link together hardware made by various vendors.

Late next month, IBM will begin selling Version 4.1 of SAN Volume Controller (SVC). This is IBM's hardware and software pairing that allows customers to manage a wide variety of storage systems from one place. It has proven popular enough to attract more than 2,000 customers over the past couple of years, according to Big Blue.

The new SVC will replace the nine month old Version 3.1 package and give customers some pretty key upgrades.

The most significant addition is the arrival of Global Mirror support that allows for long-distance asynchronous remote data replication. Such technology has been available on IBM's DS storage systems.

Global Mirror gives SVC customers the long-distance and asynchronous options they did not already have with Metro Mirror, which limited replication distances to about 100 miles.

"What we have seen is a lot more focus from clients wanting to go longer distances," IBM marketing manager Chris Saul told us. "Hurricane Katrina really brought the need for long distance replication home to a lot of people."

We're always skeptical of the natural disaster pitch, but storage vendors seem to love it.

Customers that have already licensed Metro Mirror will get the Global Mirror upgrade at no charge, and new customers will get both packages for one low, low price.

Another SVC addition comes in the form of support for 4 Gbps storage gear. The great 4 Gbps push is on, and IBM is more than ready to sell you some new hardware to take advantage of it. Those hoping to go the 4 Gbps route will need to upgrade their SVC appliance.

IBM has also expanded the list of supported SVC software to include the latest and greatest versions of Microsoft, Linux and popular Unix operating systems. In addition, SVC will now work with HP's OpenVMS and Hitachi's TagmaStore operating systems.

On the hardware front, the new version of SVC brings support for IBM's own DS400 system and its new gear sold as part of the Network Appliance partnership. The latest HP kit is supported as well.

The last new SVC feature is support for on-the-fly upgrades of clustered SVC appliances.

IBM tells us that "the majority" of SVC customers are small to medium sized businesses - a proclamation that came as a bit of shock. After all, we're talking about pretty high-end storage management stuff here. Even the largest of customers are just wrapping their noggins around the amorphous beast that is virtualization.

"The overhead of having to manage a bunch of different storage systems is a big concern for SMBs," Saul said. "These customers want SVC for centralized administration.

"Also, we've found that SMBs like the idea of not being tied to one storage vendor for hardware. This gives them some leverage."

Always kind, always gentle, always willing to lend a helping hand - that's our IBM.

The SVC software runs on a Xeon-powered x336 server. IBM sells a pair of these boxes with some hardware add-ons and the SVC software at a starting price of $42,500. ®

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