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The Many Faces of Clustered Storage

Clustered storage is one of the hottest buzz words in the industry, but it means different things when different vendors talk about it. We all know that clusters are good for a lot of things, but the word is used to describe a wide variety of products that often aren't even in the same category. One needs to pay close attention when the C word gets tossed around.

Two recent product upgrades from Isilon Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ISLN) and Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) highlight the potential confusion. Both describe their "clustering" products as meant for "next-generation data centers." Symantec issued Veritas Cluster Server One, which is meant to improve high availability and disaster recovery for physical and virtual machines. Isilon upgraded its OneFS distributed file system, which creates one "giant Z Srive" on a fully symmetrical storage cluster.

Vendors ranging from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) to ONStor Inc. , ParaScale Inc. , Seanodes , and Caringo have also made recent announcements that featured the words "clustered storage."

"Clustered storage has been around for a while, but it's becoming more trendy," said analyst George Crump, founder of Storage Switzerland. "It is being offered by lots of vendors, and most of them mean they're creating a single pool of storage from a bunch of hardware boxes. Others use clustering to improve disaster recovery. But it has become a buzz word without a clear definition."

On the high-availability and disaster-recovery side, clusters can provide insurance that systems will keep operating and data will be available in case of a failure as data center infrastructure grows. "For most data center managers, the enemy is complexity," said Jason Nadeau, director of product management for Veritas Cluster Server product family. "They want to move to a distributed architecture, they want to virtualize, they want to use x86 platforms. But traditional clustering solutions break when you have thousands of virtual machines. They just can't scale."

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