Compaq sketches ENSA road map

Compaq sketches ENSA road map

Architecture will take advantage of virtualization, with products being phased in over the next few years.

By Dave Simpson

Compaq Computer last month unveiled its future storage architecture in what company officials billed as the most important announcement the storage division will make in the next 12 months. "The significance of this announcement is that we`re putting a stake in the ground and are communicating to our customers a multi-year storage vision," says Howard Elias, vice president and general manager of Compaq`s storage products division.

However, the announcement was a statement of direction and, like most such announcements from storage vendors over the last two months, it was long on vision and short on details. But analysts say that if Compaq can deliver on its promises, it stands a good chance of retaining its position as the world`s leading storage vendor. "It`s a very good vision that should give users confidence that Compaq has a clear direction, and that investments in current storage technology will be protected," says John McArthur, program director, storage systems research, at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA.

Compaq`s announcement came on the heels of similar long-range vision statements from storage leaders such as EMC and Hewlett-Packard, but some consultants note that tangible products have been noticeably absent from these announcements.

"It`s great to have a position statement, but the heavy lifting has yet to be done. Compaq`s as well-positioned as anyone to take on all of this, but at some point someone is going to have to stop the rhetoric and start delivering products," says Richard Lee, president of Data Storage Technologies, a management and technology consulting firm in Ridgewood, NJ.

Under the umbrella term Enterprise Net- work Storage Architecture (ENSA), Compaq plans to phase in technology and products that will enable users to manage from a single point a distributed pool of storage resources. At the heart of the strategy is the "virtualization" of storage. "Virtualization removes the ownership of the physical data and components from the server operating system and creates what appears to the operating system to be an unlimited pool of storage," explains Jeffrey Schnabel, director of product marketing in Compaq`s storage products division. "In contrast, storage today is actually owned by the operating system." Analysts say that virtualization is a key part of ENSA, and that Compaq may have carried the concept further than have some of its competitors. "Virtualization is the foundation for a lot of the other ENSA features like dynamic allocation and reallocation of storage, data replication, and policy-based management," says Anders Lofgren, an analyst with the Giga Information Group consulting firm, in Cambridge, MA.

"In the most expansive implementation, the entire storage environment becomes virtual in that by using management tools--which don`t exist yet--you`re able to assign storage capabilities and quality of service to all subscribers," says Lee. "And I think Compaq`s taken the concept one step further than everybody else."

ENSA will encompass storage devices, servers, network infrastructures, linking devices such as switches and hubs, and perhaps most importantly storage resource management software that Compaq and its partners are working on. However, it`s unclear which vendors will actually supply the code. "We`ll adopt whatever software gets us to market quickest and most reliably," says Schnabel, adding that it may come from operating system vendors, third-party developers, Compaq, or a combination of all three.

As have most other major vendors that have recently laid out storage road maps--which usually focus on storage area networks (SANs)--Compaq announced extensive partnerships (see vendor list). "Compaq has outstanding partners, particularly STK and Veritas," says Lofgren. Analysts such as Lofgren say that Compaq`s other key strength relative to its competitors is its extensive systems integration and services capabilities, which will become increasingly important as IT organizations move toward new, and complex, architectures such as SANs.

Surprisingly, Compaq`s ENSA announcement made scant mention of SANs, arguably the hottest buzzword in the storage industry. "Users have a perceived definition of what a SAN is, but our concept of virtualization goes so far beyond the hardware components that are today required for SANs that we didn`t want to be directly associated with just SANs," says Schnabel.

Virtualization occurs either within atomic units that Compaq calls storage cells, or among storage cells integrated into storage clusters. Clusters can span the same distances as conventional SANs. ENSA will eventually extend virtualization to a global scale with storage webs, which create a single manageable entity from a collection of storage clusters.

Although Compaq officials claim the ENSA architecture will encompass a variety of operating systems and heterogeneous storage and server platforms, analysts expect the strategy to be squarely focused on Windows NT, StorageWorks subsystems, and Compaq servers.

ENSA will be delivered in three broad phases (see figure). The first phase consists of Fibre Channel-based products such as the Enterprise Backup Solution, which was rolled out in November. Phase two products are expected to be announced as early as next week and will include Fibre Channel solutions, disaster tolerance and avoidance products, and services for implementing ENSA-based storage networks.

This article was originally published on January 01, 1999