More Intelligence Is on the Way

 
 
By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2003-09-15
 
 
 

More Intelligence Is on the Way


Given that the intelligent SAN switch market is officially a one-horse race right now, it might seem a little early to focus on this area of storage networking. Maxxan Systems Inc. stands alone as the only vendor currently shipping an intelligent storage area network switch.

However, there are compelling reasons why now is the best time to consider intelligent SAN switches. Although most of the technology is bleeding-edge or still in the planning stage, just about every switch vendor is aggressively pushing toward this technology, as eWEEK Labs found during vendor visits and tech demonstrations throughout the summer.

In addition, major software vendors such as Veritas Software Corp. are planning their own strategies for intelligent SAN switches, so we expect the technology to change the landscape of storage networking during the next few years—and probably even faster if an intelligent SAN switch standard reaches fruition sooner rather than later.

If the standard effort slips past the middle of next year, however, it could slow the market for this product category.

Next page: Switching on Power

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Switching on Power

Seeing is believing at eWEEK Labs, and we believe weve seen the intelligent future in a variety of technologies.

Most products, prices and ship dates havent been announced yet. We believe the new technology will likely make switches more expensive, at least initially, but the benefits in scalability and ease of management should more than justify any additional cost.

Most major storage switch vendors have shown convincing proof-of-concept demonstrations during the last few months.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc.s acquisition of Rhapsody Networks Inc. has accelerated Brocades intelligent SAN switch development. The company recently demonstrated its SilkWorm Fabric AP (Application Platform) 7420 hardware platform, which is slated to enter beta tests by the end of the year.

One of the more interesting summer demos we saw coupled Brocades SilkWorm Fabric AP hardware platform with Alacritus Software Inc.s Securitus Virtual Tape Library software. Running on the AP7420, the Securitus software in the demo presented disk-based storage—RAID arrays or JBOD (just a bunch of disks)—to standard backup software packages as virtual tape libraries. This is important because it enables IT managers to leverage the investments theyve made in tape-friendly backup and disaster recovery software.

The Securitus Virtual Tape Library/AP7420 would be an attractive combination for IT managers with large amounts of data and a small backup window. When IT managers want to ship their data off-site, the Securitus software can move the data to tape, while giving the tapes the necessary media management metadata to aid in restoration.

At the Veritas Vision conference in Las Vegas in May, Veritas and Brocade demonstrated how Veritas popular Volume Manager product could be run on Brocades SilkWorm Fabric AP hardware.

Volume Manager allows IT managers to replicate data over several disks for redundancy and performance enhancement. As the name implies, it also allows IT managers to move volumes from array to array and enables dynamic online growth of data volumes. In the context of a SAN, Volume Manager is essentially a storage virtualization solution.

In addition to its hardware platform, Brocades XPath Technology, a fabric-based API, allows software developers to create applications for intelligent SAN switches.

McData Corp. has been quiet regarding vendor partnerships, but the company is doing interesting work with Incipient Inc. to deliver storage virtualization on a switch.

For current customers, McData is developing an intelligent storage blade that will easily plug into its present-day director-class switches. The blade is slated to ship late next quarter, and prices have yet to be announced.

On the lower end, McDatas current 24-port switch will be augmented with the addition of a fast-path processor to make an Intelligent SAN Switch—but in the process, it will be reduced to a 16-port switch. This is a slight sacrifice: Port count is important, but application capabilities are critical.

Maxxan and Brocade have elected to put both the fast-path processor, which deals with transactions and data movement, and the control-path processors, which interface with the application and configure the fast path, in the switches themselves.

McData, on the other hand, has elected to put the control-path processor—usually a general-purpose processor running the storage application—outside the switch in a small appliance box.

In McDatas intelligent switch, the control-path processor sets the mapping information for the switch and programs that information into the fast-path processor while keeping out of the data path.

The McData/Incipient switch is expected to be generally available next quarter. Pricing hasnt been an-nounced.

Cisco Systems Inc., like Brocade, recently demonstrated Veritas storage virtualization software running on the Cisco MDS 9000 switches and directors. Although information about Ciscos technology has been scant to date, one of its key partners, EMC Corp., has committed to developing a version of its ControlCenter storage management software to run on Ciscos MDS 9000 family.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is poised to reap the rewards of its Pirus Networks acquisition, made last year. The PSX-1000 Intelligent SAN Switch, part of Suns N1 strategy, incorporates Pirus technology to provide virtualization, volume management and point-in-time copy functionality. (No ship date or price is yet available.)

On the IP side, Sun hopes to eventually use the PSX-1000 to provide iSCSI and network-attached storage capabilities, officials said, but Fibre Channel virtualization and management are the companys focus for now. Later this year, Sun will embed its PSX-1000 in its StorEdge 6900 array to enhance the functionality of its enterprise-class storage array, officials said.

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