IBM Virtually in the Game

Proffers details of virtualization roadmap and says StorageTank won't be ready until December

May 1, 2003

5 Min Read
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IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) today outlined new details of its storage virtualization roadmap and said that its SAN File System -- formerly known as StorageTank -- won't be available until December (see IBM Rolls Out Virtualization Line).

But even though it has taken longer than its competitors to get its storage virtualization story ready, IBM doesn't think it's behind the curve.

"In terms of whether we are early or late to the party, I would say we're coming to market in a complete way," says Clod Barerra, director of technical strategy for storage in IBM's Systems Group. "I don't think we're in any way late -- you can't point to someone who has run the table in this area."

IBM's virtualization lineup includes:

  • TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller: A system that comprises two PC-based Linux appliances, slated to ship in July, that will provide a consolidated view of multiple IBM Shark and FastT storage arrays initially and support third-party storage later in 2003. IBM says an "entry-level configuration" of the SAN Volume Controller, which was code-named LodeStone, will cost less than $75,000.

  • TotalStorage SAN Integration Server: A turnkey, rack-mounted version of SAN Volume Controller that includes two or four SAN Volume Controller servers; a FAStT600 array with up to 83 Tbytes of storage; and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) Fibre Channel switches. The SAN Integration Server option will be available in August 2003; pricing details weren't disclosed.

  • TotalStorage SAN File System: This software, formerly known as StorageTank, will be delivered as a set of PC-based appliances running Linux and will provide centralized file management in a heterogeneous network. IBM expects to ship this in December 2003 -- giving it just enough wiggle room to meet its promise that it would be delivered sometime this year. The company hasn't disclosed any pricing for the SAN File System yet (see IBM Gasses Up Storage Tank, IBM Software Slides to 2003, and IBM Leaks Storage Tank Details).

It's true that storage virtualization remains an emerging category. However, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) have made headway so far -- HP, in particular, claims it has sold 500 of its Continuous Access Storage Appliance (CASA) systems to date. And smaller vendors like DataCore Software Corp., FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC), and StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd. have also had some success (see HP, IBM Make Virtual Motions and Sun Thickens Up in the Middle).EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), meanwhile, made virtualization moves of its own this week, announcing that it will work with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) to bring its storage management applications to Cisco's MDS 9000 switch platform. EMC also said its PowerPath software, which splits I/O workload among multiple servers and storage systems, will support volume management for multivendor storage systems (see EMC, Cisco Do the Deed and EMC Turns Up the Volume).

IBM, though, says its SAN Volume Controller provides enterprise-class features and performance that have so far been unavailable in the market. Each dual-node "storage engine" provides 4 Gbytes of cache and four 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel interfaces; IBM claims a pair of storage engines provides up to 1-Gbit/s throughput and 140,000 I/O operations per second (IOPS).

The system will support snapshot, remote copy, dual-pathing, automatic failover, and nondisruptive data migration functions, IBM says. It will also include support for the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) storage management specification.

"When I look around in the industry, when I see what's out there to date... I think, based on the business results, we would all conclude they don't have enough functionality," Barrera says. Other vendors' virtualization systems "cut a lot of corners or delivered only part of what customers wanted."

Well. This is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, since the SAN Volume Controller will -- at least out of the gate -- support only FastT and Shark storage. Talk about delivering only part of what customers want! But Barrera emphasizes that the SAN Volume Controller will eventually support heterogeneous storage environments, although what that includes is yet to be determined."The one thing we believe very strongly is we want other people's storage attached. The strategic statement is, any storage that customers tell us they need supported will be supported."

Barrera notes that the bulk of the development of LodeStone has taken place at IBM's development center in Hursley, U.K., that previously developed the proprietary Serial Storage Architecture (SSA) disk interface. "These are folks who know a lot about performance and availability," he says. [Ed. note: Although maybe SSA is not the best example to trot out, given that it's a dead technology?]

For now -- unlike EMC and HP -- IBM doesn't explicitly plan to develop its virtualization technologies for "intelligent" SAN switches, such as those from Cisco or Brocade, through its acquisition of Rhapsody Networks (see HP Opens Doors to CASA and Brocade Loads Code, Signs EMC).

"Conceptually, there are a good deal of similarities between the job that the SAN Volume Controller software does and the functions the switch guys are saying they'll do," says Barrera. "That said, we are still interested in the possible eventual deployment of our storage virtualization in a switch environment. We have ongoing conversations with all of [the intelligent switch vendors] but there's nothing to announce now."

Meanwhile, IBM is continuing to beta test the StorageTank SAN file system, which was originally expected to be delivered over a year ago. Barrera says that "getting a new file system up and running takes some time, and we want to get customer experience before we open the floodgates."One beta site for StorageTank is CERN, the particle physics research organization based in Switzerland where the World Wide Web was invented. CERN is using StorageTank with iSCSI, connected to IBM's TotalStorage 200i storage arrays, although IBM expects most customers to use Fibre Channel infrastructure with the SAN file system.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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