HP, IBM Make Virtual Motions

HP charges up CASA 5.5 virtualization appliance, as Big Blue readies its SAN Volume Controller

March 28, 2003

3 Min Read
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Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) are both readying new storage virtualization systems -- although HP is already on its fifth generation, while IBM is just gearing up its first.

Next month, HP will roll out a new version of OpenView Continuous Access Storage Appliance (CASA), the product formerly known as StorageApps. Version 5.5 of CASA, expected be available in May, will run on two HP ML370 ProLiant servers with six PCI-X bus slots and 2.8GHz processors.

The performance boost allows CASA 5.5 to support up to 24 Fibre Channel interfaces, compared with 16 previously. HP has also finally integrated the system with the OpenView Storage Area Management (SAM) application, allowing administrators to manage CASA from a central point. The system, which HP says provides up to 50,000 I/O operations per second (IOPS), will carry the same starting list price of $122,500. It offers data replication among multiple vendors' arrays, including those from HP, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) (but not IBM).

"The momentum is clearly building for this product," says Mark Sorenson, vice president of HP's storage software division.

HP claims to have sold more than 500 of these CASA units to date. HP bought StorageApps in July 2001, in a deal worth $350 million. That averages out to an expenditure of $700,000 for each $122,500 sale. To be fair, this market is just starting to take off -- but still! (See HP Recasts Virtualization Box.)Some of the customers who have deployed CASA include The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Energy United, a utility in North Carolina; San Juan Unified School District in California; and National Medical Health Card Systems Inc. (NMHC), a prescription drug management firm.

HP's next release of CASA, version 6, is due out in the fourth quarter of 2003. This version will be based around the 16-port Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) switch (which Brocade acquired via Rhapsody) and will incorporate elements of Compaq's VersaStor host-based virtualization technology (see HP Picks Rhapsody and Brocade Reupholsters Rhapsody).

Sorenson maintains that the Brocade/Rhapsody switch will simply augment the features provided by the current PC-based CASA. "All you do is get more scaleability and performance," he says. "The functionality is the same... it will be a seamless upgrade."

Meanwhile, IBM is getting ready to release its own block-level virtualization product -- dubbed the TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller -- the basic details of which Big Blue outlined about a year ago (see IBM Software Slides to 2003).

The in-band SAN Volume Controller, code-named Lodestone, is based on clustered IBM xSeries servers running Linux. According to IBM, additional nodes can be added nondisruptively to provide "enterprise-class scalability." But the first iteration of SAN Volume Controller, which is expected to ship sometime this summer, appears to have some serious limitations. For one thing, it will initially support only IBM Enterprise Storage Server (a.k.a. Shark) and FastT disk arrays.IBM hasn't even officially announced SAN Volume Controller, but competitors are already disparaging it as suffering from poor performance. "It's like a 0.5 release," says Ken Horner, VP of marketing at DataCore Software Corp. "It's nowhere near the scaleability and support that DataCore supports."

Interestingly, DataCore was an erstwhile partner of IBM, which briefly resold DataCore's Windows-based SANsymphony software. Now the two are confirmed competitors: "It's as if IBM looked at DataCore and said, 'This is cool, but let's go build it on Linux,' " says Horner (see IBM Signs Sneaky DataCore Deal).

IBM spokeswoman Sandra Dressel wouldn't discuss details of SAN Volume Controller, but she claims it won't have the performance issues of out-of-band systems. "With some unique things we've done with the in-band approach, we believe the IBM solution will not have latency issues that out-of-band offerings have, [because] we won't have to borrow CPUs off the application server."

For now, though, IBM's virtualization product remains in the realm of the virtual.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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