SGI stages storage comeback

Posted on October 01, 2003

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By Heidi Biggar

After an extended period of silence, SGI last month re-emerged on the storage scene with a new suite of products and expanded services for application developers and distributors, highlighted by a recently inked deal with storage management software provider AppIQ.

The initiatives came on the heels of a broader corporate re-haul, which, among other things, divided SGI into three distinct groups—server, visualization, and storage—and, in the case of storage, established a new executive management team.

"It's an initiative that provides new opportunities for us beyond our traditional market," says Gabriel Broner, SGI's senior vice president and general manager of storage. SGI's traditional markets include high-computing industries such as media, sciences, and automotive.

One of the ways SGI expects to move beyond its core market is by expanding its operating system support. To that end, SGI announced that its CXFS shared file system now supports AIX and Linux, as well as Irix, Solaris, and Windows. The company quietly added Solaris and Windows support a year ago; the file system was initially released four years ago with support for only SGI's Irix operating system.

Broner says that while it took the company a couple of years to iron out all the wrinkles with its shared file system, CXFS is now a stable product that allows users and applications to concurrently share data in a storage area network (SAN) without replication. "The added operating system support gave us a shared file system, which is what IBM has been trying to do with StorageTank," says Broner.

But IBM's StorageTank won't be the only competitor for SGI's shared file system. Similar to CXFS, ADIC's StorNext journaling file system also provides shared access to a common data pool within a SAN. "We believe we're delivering on [the promise of IBM's] StorageTank with our StorNext file system," says Bill Yaman, vice president of software at ADIC. The StorNext file system is based on Centravision technology ADIC acquired from MountainGate in 1998.

The StorNext file system is a component of ADIC's StorNext Management Suite (SNMS) and integrates with the StorNext Storage Manager, which manages the flow of data among storage resources based on user-defined policies. Similarly, SGI's Data Migration Facility (DMF), which is now in its 2.9 release, supports multiple tiers of storage, migrating files based on their age, size, and type to online disk, near-line disk, and tape storage.

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CXFS and DMF are part of SGI's new InfiniteStorage architecture, which includes three new products (InfiniteStorage NAS 2000, InfiniteStorage SAN 2000, and InfiniteStorage SAN 3000) as well as a variety of other hardware and software products (see table). The NAS 2000 provides shared file system access in a network-attached storage (NAS) environment; and the SAN 2000, shared file access to both SAN and NAS resources. The SAN 3000 is geared toward high-end computing environments.

In addition to ADIC, other vendors of shared file systems include Sistina, Sun, Veritas, and, eventually, IBM. These file systems vary in terms of their breadth of platform support, maturity, and scalability, among other things.

Sun's QFS, for example, only supports Sun environments; Veritas File System, Unix environments; and Sistina, Linux environments. The full version of IBM's StorageTank is not yet available.

Some consultants say that while some comparisons can be made among the available file systems, IBM's StorageTank, when it ships, will stand out. "StorageTank [expected to ship in Q4] is meant to be a real SAN operating system, which is much different than a storage-optimized file system like ADIC's StorNext or SGI's CXFS," according to Richard Lee, president and CEO of The Storage Consulting Group. "StorNext and CXFS are host-based and can't scale to the degree that StorageTank can, at least in principle. They're fine for a local environment but not for global environments."

On the management front, SGI said it is working with AppIQ to make its entire product line compliant with the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) standard. That includes the Irix operating system, CXFS shared file system, SAN servers, Linux-based Altix 3000 systems, and SGI Total Performance disk arrays.

In addition to working together to develop SMI-S software, SGI and AppIQ have also entered into an OEM/reseller relationship. SGI and its resellers will market and resell AppIQ's SAN management and storage resource management (SRM) software.

Broner says that the two companies are integrating their products, but would not comment on when that would be completed. Other SGI partners include Hitachi Data Systems and LSI Logic.

Separate from its joint announcement with SGI, AppIQ earlier this month unveiled version 3.0 of its storage management suite, a new brand name (Storage Authority), and, perhaps most important, its new SRM technology, called Storage Authority for File Servers. AppIQ acquired this technology last month from XStormTech, a provider of SRM software.

AppIQ officials claim that the XStorm- Tech software overcomes scalability issues common to first-generation file-level SRM products by significantly improving the speed with which a file system can be scanned, discovered, and reported on. This results in faster scans and more scalability, according to Tom Rose, vice president of marketing at AppIQ.

Further, by integrating the software with its SAN management and storage operations software, Rose says users will not only be able to find files that meet specific criteria, but they will also be able to determine which files or users will be potentially affected by an action before that action is taken.

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