IBM fuels SAN activity

Posted on March 01, 1999

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IBM fuels SAN activity

Heidi Biggar

Continuing the run of one-two punches being thrown by industry heavyweights, IBM last month announced its storage area network (SAN) framework and the first of a series of SAN-related products, including a switch, hub, Fibre Channel RAID storage server, and storage management software.

But like many other recent SAN announcements, IBM`s plan is heavy on rhetoric and light on deliverables. "Everyone`s come out with similar products," says Anders Lofgren, an analyst with Giga Information Group, an IT consulting firm in Norwell, MA. "None of the long-term visions of any of these companies is much different from the other."

Nonetheless, IBM`s entry into the SAN arena has significant implications. For one, the very presence of the second-largest storage supplier and the developer of SANs in the mainframe world adds momentum to the open-systems SAN trend.

And perhaps most importantly, says John McArthur, program director of storage systems research at International Data Corp., a research firm in Framingham, MA, "the fact that IBM is entering the storage networking market and the fact that they are the leading server supplier in midrange (with 28% market share) and high-end spaces (a 37% share) positions them well to capture a significant portion of the market." IDC expects storage networks to be largely homogeneous for the next several years.

The framework for IBM`s SAN agenda is a set of hardware and software building blocks--an extension of the company`s Seascape architecture.

Says Michael Harrison, manager of worldwide sales and marketing, disk storage systems, for IBM`s storage systems division, "We`re building a foundation of different building blocks. [Our framework] brings them together in a single focal point."

On the connectivity front, IBM introduced:

SAN Data Gateway--a "storage switch" that provides a Fibre Channel/SCSI bridge between various IBM disk and tape storage systems (e.g., Virtual Storage Server, Magstar and Magstar MP subsystems, silos, libraries, and data servers) and select open-systems servers (IBM, Sun, and HP Unix servers and Intel-based NT servers). The device is based on technology from Pathlight Technology Inc. (Ithaca, NY).

Fibre Channel RAID storage server. IBM`s first Fibre Channel storage server. It features an expandable storage unit and Ultrastar SCSI disk drives for 18GB to 1TB of capacity. The unit incorporates dual-active LSI Logic RAID controllers for redundancy in one- or two-server homogeneous environments. It also supports multiple heterogeneous servers (NT and Unix) in a clustered environment. Price: $0.20 to $0.50 per MB, depending on configuration.

Fibre Channel Storage Hub provided by Vixel. A seven-port hub for configuring multiple Fibre Channel host and storage server attachments. It supports data rates of up to 100MBps.

Meanwhile, for management, IBM adds StorWatch SAN Data Gateway Specialist and StorWatch Fibre Channel RAID Specialist to its existing StorWatch line. Through a graphical user interface, both software enhancements enable IT managers to centrally configure, manage, and service multiple Gateway boxes or RAID storage server devices across the enterprise. Additionally, a Fibre Channel storage manager tool provides for automatic I/O path failover, should a host adapter, hub, or storage server controller fail. The software is bundled with IBM Gateway boxes and RAID storage servers.

Separately, IBM also released details about enhancements to its Magstar Virtual Tape Server product line and its Magstar 3590 family of tape drives. Most notably, IBM opened Magstar VTS to RS/6000 and RS/6000 SP servers, and has plans to support HP, Sun, and NT servers within a year. IBM also added an "import/export" feature, which allows users to move stacked volume cartridges from one virtual tape server to another. IBM is also working on increasing the system`s disk cache.

As for the Magstar 3590, it`s now available with two Ultra SCSI ports, for a burst rate of up to 40MBps.


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