As the role of storage servers in the enterprise continues to evolve, Hewlett-Packard and IBM are responding, each planning to incorporate such elements as performance virtualization, data search and sturdier file management capabilities into their storage building blocks.
The new technologies open the door for enterprises to overcome the inherent limitations of todays hardware by letting them manage data at the application level to optimize shared computing resources, users said.
"We see disks quickly becoming a commodity. ... Its wonderful for the customer, but I can see where it can be scary for the vendor," said Bob Venable, enterprise systems manager at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, in Chattanooga.
"This is a horse race between the vendors. We see the software in some ways is giving us advanced negotiating power for future storage purposes."
Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif., is creating software that enables the management of storage across modular storage hardware units called smart cells. These devices include processing and memory and are interchangeable. The software that sits on top will let users run a storage grid that is focused on application management, officials said.
Later this year, HP will introduce a scalable file-services smart cell that augments its recently announced Reference Information Storage System e-mail and archiving smart cell with granular file management capabilities. Other smart cells on tap from HP may include block and file serving, policy and reporting, and anti-virus protection, officials said.
For its part, IBM is making its storage systems more modular through a storage blade system that features what officials called "infrastructure in a box." As that develops over the coming year, IBM will insulate applications and storage administrators from underlying physical server and storage boundaries through its SAN (storage area network) products, specifically the SVC (SAN Volume Controller) and SFS (SAN File System) offerings.
For instance, IBM has created a prototype of its performance virtualization technology that will let users apply application response time, I/O scheduling and cache control requirements to storage devices, officials said.
The virtualization technology should be added to SVC and IBMs Total Productivity Center management software in a year or more, according to Jai Menon, director and chief technologist of Storage Systems Architecture and Design at IBM, in Armonk, N.Y.
IBM is also perfecting its workload prediction technology for storage systems. The software measures storage history over a three-month period to predict I/O rates and let customers move data from Serial ATA drives to high-performance drives to smooth usage spikes. When combined with virtualization, it can predict peaks and automatically reconfigure the storage infrastructure ahead of time, Menon said.
On another front, IBMs forthcoming Application Aware Storage Management prototype automatically determines what files go to which application during backup operations.
Managing ever-growing storage is crucial for IT managers such as BlueCross Venable. In four years, his SAN has grown from 10 terabytes of disk space and 30 servers to 110 terabytes of disk space and 100 servers. IBMs SVC software helped Venables IT department move application-specific storage across a heterogeneous Windows/Unix/mainframe IT infrastructure.
"We built our SAN with the whole idea we would be sharing," noted Venable.
However, he said he still possesses discreet pieces of disk servers and midrange task towers that must be individually managed.
For some customers looking toward storage consolidation, specific application demands in designing a SAN environment supersede hardware considerations when aligning with a storage vendor.
"It turned out a lot of our applications had specific needs," said Ken Westerback, a technology architect for St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto. "We didnt want to buy something that wouldnt match up with our application. Our application was the most critical element, not the infrastructure."
St. Michaels enlisted IBM TotalStorage to consolidate its disconnected storage infrastructures into three areas: application servers; shared access to an image library; and data mirroring in a second data center and tape backup. The health care company shares its resources using SVC for virtualization tying together IBM TotalStorage Enterprise Server, FAStT900, as well as Tivoli Storage Manager for backup and recovery.