BY HEIDI BIGGAR
Call it what you will-"SAN virtualization" or "Automated Information Storage"-but when it comes to managing increasingly large, data-rich heterogeneous storage networks, one thing is certain: The ability to mask the complexity of these environments, automate activities, and reduce associated IT administration costs will be paramount.
"Virtualization is critical to making all the parts and the pieces work in the network agnostically-and to easing implementation," says Buzz Walker, director of new business ventures at Hewlett-Packard and architect of the company's proposed acquisition of Bridgewater, NJ-based StorageApps, a three-year-old vendor of storage virtualization software and hardware.
For HP, the value of the deal is twofold: It gives the company an immediate entry into the virtualization market with a deliverable product, and it fills a large gap in HP's Federated Storage Area Management architecture by extending disk-array support to include systems from Compaq, Dell, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, and Sun.
"This is a very important step for us," notes Walker. "Now we can go into our customers' sites and integrate into their existing storage infrastructures, which gives them the choice of selecting the right size storage for their environments." The acquisition will also enable HP to immediately support a wide range of connectivity technologies (e.g., Fibre Channel, SCSI, TCP/IP, and soon, iSCSI) and operating systems (e.g., Unix and Windows 2000/NT).
"While it has been our strategy to play in heterogeneous storage environments, this acquisition makes it easier for us to support heterogeneous operating systems going forward and, more importantly, allows us to provide virtualization and data movement across heterogeneous storage platforms," explains Walker. StorageApps' software can also be easily integrated into HP OpenView Storage Area Manager for a "virtual" view of the entire storage environment.
The StorageApps family includes both software (SAN.OS, SANSuite, and SAN Master) and hardware (SANLink and SANLink Plus) products. The SAN.OS operating system enables in-band virtualization and heterogeneous host and storage support. SANSuite provides advanced security, data replication, and point-in-time imaging, and SANMaster handles topology management through a Web-based interface. The three offerings are currently available in products from StorageApps (SANLink) and Dell (PowerVault 530F).
The intelligence for Auto IS will be distributed throughout the storage environment.
As for Dell, which is both an OEM partner of and a principal investor in StorageApps, expect it to make a move away from HP, says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, a storage consulting firm in Milford, MA. "Dell will stick with StorageApps for now, but I'd expect them to be looking to divest themselves from HP as soon as possible."
Industry analysts say the StorageApps acquisition gives HP an edge among systems vendors in terms of being able to offer SAN virtualization, lends credibility to virtualization as a technology, and portends a likely trend toward greater consolidation in this space.
"HP's acquisition of StorageApps fast-forwards them into deliverable virtualization when EMC, Hitachi, IBM, and Sun are still waving their hands," says John Webster, a senior analyst with Illuminata, a research and consulting firm in Nashua, NH.
Adds Duplessie: "HP is the first major systems vendor to hop on the storage virtualization bandwagon in a major way. This move not only proves that the company is serious about becoming an open-systems storage player but also sets a new bar for the other virtualization companies." Look for IBM to potentially partner or buy from one of the remaining vendors, he says.
Why StorageApps? According to HP's Walker, it boiled down to three factors: StorageApps' customer base of enterprise-class users, the modular nature of its architecture, and the experience of its technologists.
HP plans to integrate Storage Apps' products into its Networked Storage Solutions Organization (NSSO) as a separate business unit focused on virtualization-related technologies.
EMC joins in
"Count on EMC to take a technology and brand it in the context of its business value rather than its technological name," says Illuminata's Webster in the recently published report Auto IS-EMC's New Dawn. And that's exactly what the company is doing with virtualization-or Automated Information Storage (Auto IS), as EMC prefers to call it.
"Auto IS is the 'next big thing,' " claims Jim Rothnie, EMC senior vice president and chief technology officer. "We're betting on this technology to steer us out of our current downturn and to drive the industry going forward," he says.
"The number-one pain point for customers is the people-cost of managing storage," says Rothnie. By automating the storage infrastructure, EMC says it will be able to increase the amount of storage managed by an order of magnitude, from a few terabytes per administrator to hundreds of terabytes or more.
The idea is to move the storage cloud so that it encompasses the storage systems, creating one giant storage system out of a network of storage systems, says Rothnie. This not only simplifies the networked infrastructure but also enables storage systems to communicate automatically and with no regard to what sits in the middle (e.g., switches). "200GB of storage capacity could be re-allocated without any application on a server ever knowing it," he says.
If this concept sounds familiar, you're right. "[After all,] what is the point of virtualization but the automation of information storage management processes?" asks Webster. EMC argues that what other vendors are doing today is just "data abstraction" (the pooling of data into logical volumes) and not automation (or data mobility).
"The thing that we're doing, that nobody else is doing, is 'data mobility,' " Rothnie claims. "The 'abstraction' notion is useful separately, but it's greatly enriched by [the ability to then] do things on behalf of users. It proactively watches what's happening in terms of the traffic and the equipment in a storage domain and continually adjusts to do what it deems is the 'best thing' in that particular circumstance."
The intelligence for this capability will be distributed throughout the storage environment in next-generation releases of EMC Control Center (ECC), PowerPath, and SRDF/MirrorView (see diagram). Specifically, EMC is building the data-mover feature into SRDF and MirrorView; I/O redirectors-necessary to redirect I/O channels from one target to another-into PowerPath; and critical controlling intelligence into ECC.
Users can expect to see new revs of both SRDF and ECC this year, with full "automated" capability in the first or second quarter of 2002.