IPStor Package Lifts Storage to New Capacities

FalconStor Inc.'s IPStor 1.0 software blends storage virtualization and SAN-over-IP capabilities into an impressive package that earns eWeek Labs' Analyst's Choice distinction

FalconStor Inc.s IPStor 1.0 software blends storage virtualization and SAN-over-IP capabilities into an impressive package that earns eWeek Labs Analysts Choice distinction.

Most companies looking to centralize storage resources turn to proprietary hardware-based systems from vendors such as EMC Corp., which use storage processing units to manage resources. IPStor is the first IP virtualization package weve seen, and in tests, we were impressed not only by IPStors range of capabilities but also by the innovative manner in which FalconStor handles some of the thorny issues of storage virtualization.

For starters, IPStor allows IT managers to centralize storage resources onto Fibre Channel RAID units. The software runs on Linux- or Solaris-based servers, which sit between the storage units and server systems in the network (see chart, Page 45).

IPStor, which shipped in April and costs $1,000 per Storage Controller (FalconStors name for its SAN [storage area network] manager units), takes ownership of Fibre Channel storage resources and presents them to servers and clients whenever storage is requested. In tests, it was fairly easy to set up fault-tolerant IPStor storage management units, and the Web-based management utility was easy to navigate.

Smaller companies and IT managers looking to build a consolidated storage infrastructure on their own, without the backing of a major SAN vendor, have had a tough time with management because, until now, there have been few third-party storage virtualization choices.

IPStors primary competitor in the stand-alone virtualization product space is DataCore Software Corp.s SANsymphony software package. The most important difference between IPStor and SANsymphony is that SAN- symphony works in pure Fibre Channel SAN environments (Fibre Channel is the only networking hardware between the servers and the storage units), which is similar to the way a hardware-based solution would work.

In addition, SANsymphonys storage controller software runs only on Windows NT-based server platforms. Version 4.0 of SANsymphony is available now through DataCores SANvantage authorized partners and resellers. Configured virtualization nodes start at less than $20,000, and prices vary based on site-specific requirements.

IPStor connects to server systems over IP networks via FalconStors proprietary SAN/IP protocol, a storage-over-IP protocol similar to Nishan Systems Inc.s Metropolitan Fibre Channel Protocol, which delivers data in the form of UDP (User Datagram Protocol). FalconStor will work with iSCSI when that protocol is finalized, probably later this year.

SAN/IP allows IT managers to harness their installed Gigabit Ethernet networks to carry storage traffic, eliminating the need to set up separate, expansive (and typically expensive) Fibre Channel SANs throughout the company.

The best performance configuration for IPStor would be running on a dedicated Gigabit Ethernet network or on a separate virtual LAN on the Gigabit Ethernet backbone, avoiding collisions and latency issues.

Considering that Fibre Channel HBAs (host bus adapters) still cost much more than Gigabit Ethernet HBAs, an IPStor implementation will, in some cases, be less expensive than a pure Fibre Channel rollout to every server.

To get our test servers to recognize the SAN/IP protocol, we had to install client software that automatically created virtual SCSI adapters. The adapters "tricked" the server operating systems into thinking the storage served up by IPStor was locally attached, when the storage was really two networks away.

Setting up shares and user accounts was fairly easy from IPStors management interface.