By Heidi Biggar
Users know how costly it can be to scale mainframe environments—even in small increments—to meet growing data needs, but few have thought to ask why.
"It's the mainframe culture," says Bill Colestock, head of storage business at Mainline Information Systems, an IBM Premier Partner and solutions provider. "Users rarely ask the question, 'Wouldn't it be nice to attach low-cost disk?' They look to the mainframe vendor for all their storage needs."
Luminex Software, a supplier of distributed archiving and storage products in Riverside, CA, hopes to change those economics. The company's Virtual/BLUE 3990 controller and software allows users to connect open-systems JBOD or RAID storage (direct-attached or network-attached) to IBM, Fujitsu/Amdahl, or Hitachi mainframes running MVS, OS/390, z/OS, or VM/VSE. The technology only allows mainframes and open-systems applications to share hardware resources, not data.
The Virtual/BLUE 3990 controller emulates an IBM 3990 DASD control unit.
Luminex recommends installing its software on IBM x360 servers, though it can also be installed on other platforms, including NT, with some constraints (e.g., it is the only application running on the server).
The company signed an agreement with Mainline Information Systems this summer to provide a low-cost storage option (with integrated Virtual/BLUE 3990 technology) for IBM S/390 and zSeries systems.
"Virtual/BLUE 3990 breaks the proprietary lock that EMC, Hitachi, and IBM have had on mainframe disk storage," says Peter LaPorte, director of marketing and business development at Luminex. "It provides mainframe users with the same economics and flexibility of open-systems storage."
The technology allows mainframe users who are still using older storage to deploy existing and new open storage capacity for use as mainframe storage, explains Mike Kahn, managing director at The Clipper Group, an IT consulting firm. He also says that the technology may attract new mainframe users because it lowers overall costs.
Kahn explains: "There is a resurgence of interest in mainframes, especially due to the lower cost of the zSeries/800. But many interested enterprises have not had a mainframe before, so they many not have any mainframe-attachable storage. With Virtual/BLUE 3990, these new customers can use existing or new mid-tier storage, lowering the cost of deploying a z800."
In the case of the z800, Virtual/BLUE 3990 allows users to attach, for example, lower-cost FAStT disk arrays rather than more-costly Shark arrays to a mainframe. Also, it provides another tier of storage for mainframe users.
The Virtual/BLUE 3990 controller sits between a mainframe and storage area network (SAN) and acts as a pipe for I/O traffic between the two environments, translating mainframe protocols to open-systems protocols, and vice versa (see diagram). The controller emulates an IBM 3990 DASD control unit, presenting the open-systems storage as traditional DASD to the mainframe application; it does not change the structure of the data or the way that the mainframe sees, or users interact with, attached disk.
The "pool," or volume, of SAN storage assigned to the mainframe can be managed by SAN management tools. LaPorte says that the technology is currently being tested with IBM's Storage Virtualization Controller and that it is expected to operate with other storage management and provisioning software.