Virtualization vendors aim for end-to-end management

By Heidi Biggar

Recent announcements from storage virtualization vendors reflect a growing trend toward comprehensive storage management and a de-emphasis on individual components, including virtualization.

"Users just want a solution," says David Lamont, vice president of marketing at Vicom Systems. "They don't want to deal with the underlying technologies-virtualization or otherwise-or with cobbling them together."

Lamont says that buying virtualization software alone is like buying the engine of a car without the rest of the car. "It really doesn't do much for you," he says. What end users are looking for, he explains, is not virtualization per se, but solutions to problems like disk utilization, resource sharing, storage management, growing storage costs, and system downtime.

Vicom last month announced that its virtualization will be designed into Sun StorEdge disk arrays. The engine will make its debut in Sun's 6900 midrange system, which the company announced in February (see "Sun refocuses on storage," p. 10).

Do end users really know what virtualization is? "I don't think so," says Lamont. "But do they want to pool all their storage or be able to scale from a couple of boxes to an enterprise system? Yes."

So, rather than belabor the various definitions of virtualization (data abstraction, data pooling, etc.) and their various implementations (i.e., host, network, and storage), virtualization vendors say they will instead focus on the larger picture-storage management-and the role virtualization plays there.

"The more things you can centralize, the better," says Ken Horner, vice president of marketing at DataCore Software. Looking to exchange its virtualization vendor hat for one of storage management provider, DataCore recently released SANsymphony 5.0, which integrates several new software modules (see figure).

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"DataCore has already done snapshot, replication, and asynchronous mirroring, so why not put together an application programming interface (API) that other applications can write to and therefore become a storage management platform?" says Arun Taneja, a senior analyst with Milford, MA-based Enterprise Storage Group, an industry analyst firm.

Taneja says the idea of building a storage management platform out of a virtualization framework makes sense for a simple reason: Virtualization takes the physical devices and their idiosyncrasies out of the equation, making it easier to integrate new applications. SANsymphony supports all leading storage devices and operating systems and works in Fibre Channel, IP, and hybrid environments.

New to SANsymphony 5.0 are automated network volume management, storage domains, hybrid IP/FC SAN and SCSI Transport over IP (STP/IP) support, and an asynchronous IP mirroring (AIM) client.

TrueSAN regroups * After disappearing from the storage scene for nearly a year, TrueSAN in February resurfaced as a pure-play vendor of storage management software, having permanently shelved its hardware business. The company, which is reportedly testing its Cloudbreak storage management software platform with about 20 customers, including four Fortune 500 companies, is expected to ship first units in June.

DataCore and TrueSAN may share the same objective, but they are going about it in very different ways. The big difference is that TrueSAN is starting from scratch, while DataCore is building on an existing software and customer base.

"This is a very large job for one company-particularly a start-up-to do," says Taneja about TrueSAN's game plan. "But the market is still young enough that it's anybody's game." According to market researcher Gartner Inc., the storage management software market will represent a $16.7 billion opportunity in 2005.

TrueSAN's Cloudbreak operating system takes four storage management technologies-storage resource management (SRM), business continuance, storage network and device management, and distributed virtualization-and integrates them into a unified platform.

"There are point products out there, but they require users to assemble a variety of host-based or storage-resident software," says Tom Isakovich, TrueSAN founder, CEO, and president. "The fact that we can integrate all these pieces together-and keep it out of the data path-gives us a leg up."

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The four pieces are tied together by a central API or policy manager and are managed through a Java-based user interface (see figure).

While Cloudbreak does not require access to the APIs of leading storage vendors to work, Isakovich says the company plans to partner with these vendors and others to develop capabilities specific to a particular vendor's hardware and to ensure compatibility with their products.

Explains Isakovich, "For example, if Hitachi Data Systems gives us their API, we would develop an Interoperability Module that plugs into their API and enhances the management of Hitachi systems in Cloudbreak."

Along these lines, TrueSAN last month announced that it has gained access to Brocade's Fabric Access API, which will enable users to monitor and manage Brocade SilkWorm fabric switches within a Cloudbreak environment.

The Cloudbreak operating system runs on top of Linux on Intel servers (sold in a pair for redundancy) and acts as the central management point for the SAN. A separate driver is installed to enable virtualization and SRM features. Because the server is out of the data path, only one server is needed per fabric, regardless of the amount of storage traffic over the network.

Cloudbreak is storage, server, switch, and protocol agnostic and supports Windows NT/2000 and most versions of Unix. The software will be priced on a per-gigabyte basis, depending on the number of features (two to four) used.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2002