Users are increasingly viewing RAID arrays as commodity devices, and are finding it more and more difficult to distinguish among the myriad offerings. As a result, vendors are trying to differentiate their products with software.

The obvious example is EMC, which plans to invest another $1 billion in software by 2001, adding to its already impressive arsenal of high-end software packages. Similarly, Hewlett-Packard–in conjunction with Hitachi–recently announced a slew of software products for its high-end disk arrays, and analysts expect HP to provide stiff competition for EMC on the software front.

Last month, MTI Technology introduced DataSentry, a data replication software tool for applications such as online backup, disaster recovery, data migration, and Y2K compliance testing, which require continuous access to information. DataSentry is based on Legato`s DataCast code. The software runs on host servers, as opposed to in the array.

According to Rick Lucas, MTI`s software product marketing manager, DataSentry can run in synchronous mode, in which a transaction updates the primary and secondary volumes before control is returned to the program; asynchronous mode, in which a journal is set up on the primary volume and, once that buffer fills up, the transaction is sent to the secondary volume; or in “semi-synchronous” mode, which is a combination of the two techniques.

The remote mirroring software is priced at $75,000, and runs on AIX, HP-UX, and Solaris. A Windows NT version is due early next year.

MTI`s move reflects the trend toward storage system suppliers differentiating their offerings via software. Vendor emphasis on software is being driven by declining hardware margins, which is expected to lead to supplier consolidation in the disk array market.

That consolidation will lead to a new round of startups focused on software and services, according to John McArthur director of storage systems research at International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA. One example is DataCore Software, which focuses solely on software.

McArthur says services will be the next big wave in the disk array market.

“Software is a major differentiator among RAID suppliers,” he says, “but the other key differentiators are service and support.”

Services typically include storage assessment, planning, design, implementation, and management. One recent example is StorageNetworks Inc., which provides a full range of services, as well as storage outsourcing (see InfoStor, May 99).