IBM launches 4Gbps FC arrays

By Kevin Komiega

IBM continued on its quest to refit its entire storage subsystem line with 4Gbps Fibre Channel technology this month by upgrading its midrange disk systems and launching new offerings for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). IBM launched its first 4Gbps Fibre Channel arrays almost a year ago.

The enhancements affect a range of products across IBM’s System Storage DS4000 Series of disk arrays and include the System Storage DS4000 EXP810, a 4Gbps expansion unit for increased density and capacity; a new application called the DS4000 Integrated Backup for Databases (IBD) for Exchange; and the inclusion of the DS4100 and DS3400 in Microsoft’s Simple SAN program.

The new 4Gbps storage expansion unit, the EXP810, is a 16-bay disk enclosure for attachment to DS4000 midrange disk arrays, with up to 4.8TB of capacity per unit, which is more than double the capacity of the existing EXP710 expansion unit. IBM says the EXP810 is designed to accommodate 2Gbps Fibre Channel disk drives, as well as 4Gbps Fibre Channel drives when they become available.

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Harold Pike, IBM’s worldwide product marketing manager of midrange disk systems, says, “We are continuing to revise our entire product line to 4Gbps, but we will keep the 2Gbps products alive because there is a subset of users who still need those products.” Pike believes that there is always a small percentage of the customer base that will not move to the next generation of a given technology until they see large-scale adoption. However, he says it’s just a matter of time before 4Gbps is the plumbing of choice for new and existing Fibre Channel implementations.

Pike says the lack of 4Gbps Fibre Channel disk drives is one factor slowing the adoption of end-to-end (servers-to-drives) 4Gbps configurations. “No one is shipping 4Gbps hard disk drives and when they do they will only be 15,000rpm drives. Many people are going to continue to use 10,000rpm 2Gbps drives for some time,” he says.

The IBM EXP810 will use existing 2Gbps disk drives until 4Gbps drives become available. Pike expects most users will implement 4Gbps Fibre Channel passively through new product purchases rather than proactively replacing legacy gear, which is in line with the expectations of the industry on the whole.

According to TheInfoPro research firm, 4Gbps Fibre Channel is one of the top technologies in the purchasing plans of storage users, but most users are waiting until it ships with new storage devices rather than swapping out their current Fibre Channel pipes and hardware.

IBM also introduced new business continuity and e-mail archiving options, dubbed IBD for Exchange, for SMBs that provides “near-continuous” backup of Microsoft Exchange 2003 databases. The new software is called the DS4000 Integrated Backup for Databases (IBD) for Exchange.

The company also extended Vol-umeCopy and a combination of Flash-Copy/VolumeCopy capabilities to its entry-level DS4100 storage server. Flash-Copy can create an identical copy of disk volumes without interrupting operating system access to the volume, while Vol-umeCopy allows users to make a full copy of a FlashCopy volume to improve data protection.

IBM rounded out its SMB storage news by officially designating a pair of storage systems for inclusion in Microsoft’s Simple SAN initiative.

Microsoft launched its Simple SAN Initiative last year in an effort to work with partners to build midrange SAN configurations based on the Windows Storage Server platform, which includes built-in support for SANs. Under the program, Microsoft provides technical support and “plugfest” assistance to hardware vendors to help simplify the task of setting up a SAN.

The IBM DS4100 and DS4300 will eventually be part of an “out-of-the-box” SAN configuration based on development work under the Simple SAN initiative, according to IBM’s Pike.

Pricing for IBM’s System Storage DS4000 EXP810 starts at $6,000. Pricing for disaster-recovery and business continuity features, including IBD for Exchange, VolumeCopy, and a combination of FlashCopy/VolumeCopy, start at $4,800 for entry-level storage servers. DS4100 and DS4300 SAN Kits for the DS4000 storage systems are priced from about $6,500.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2006