Weaving Apps Into SAN Fabric

EMC Corp.'s upgraded Control Center framework takes steps to simplify elements of SAN management.

EMC Corp.s upgraded Control Center framework (see review) takes steps to simplify elements of SAN management, but other approaches are emerging on the rapidly evolving storage landscape.

Applications are beginning to move away from the hosts, where they have traditionally resided, and into the networking components of storage area networks, creating new management efficiencies.

Companies including Brocade Communications Systems Inc. are adding new capabilities to SAN switches that will allow applications such as storage virtualization, volume management and data replication—all of which normally reside on host servers—to run on SAN hardware.

Brocade has added a processing module, which it calls XPath Technology, to its switches that will enable multiple applications to run directly on the companys SAN fabric. Brocade SilkWorm switches with XPath API support will be available in the second half of this year. Prices arent available.

It is too early to tell if Brocades SAN Fabric Application strategy will be successful, but based on discussions with several vendors, eWEEK Labs believes that the company is off to a good start, and IT managers should expect these applications to arrive sometime this year. Brocade is one of the first companies to adopt this strategy, but we dont think it will be alone.

On the software side, Brocade has announced its XPath Operating System and has made XPath APIs available for software developers to create and port applications for this platform.

One development partner, FalconStor Software Inc., chose to sign on last year, not only because FalconStor liked the rich set of APIs provided but also because the Brocade APIs were open, FalconStor officials said.

As with any new platform, the key to the viability of XPath will be how many applications are created or ported to it. In addition to FalconStor, several application vendors have established development partnerships with Brocade. Support from more vendors increases the likelihood that Brocades approach will become the de facto standard for SAN applications.

In a recent visit to Brocade, in San Jose, Calif., we saw demonstrations of Alacritus Inc.s Virtual Tape Library software, as well as a demo of StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd.s Storage Virtualization Management Storage Pooling software running on Brocade switches.

The first question that comes to mind when looking at this strategy is, "Why do we need SAN Fabric Applications?" After all, host-based storage management applications have been around for years, and, for the most part, they have done their jobs well.

There are two basic reasons for moving applications from hosts onto the SAN fabric.

First, moving applications to the network enables vendors and IT managers to centralize network management and storage management in a single place—the SAN.

As storage management tools begin to converge, SAN switches become a good place to run them because they already tie all the important components—such as RAID arrays, servers and tape libraries—together.

Another reason for using SAN Fabric Applications is scalability. Most storage virtualization software packages currently run on general-purpose servers, which sit between the storage units and the servers.

Although the performance capabilities of general-purpose servers are improving rapidly, they will always lag behind the data-moving capabilities of a SAN switch.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar is at henry_baltazar@ziffdavis.com.

Threads in Brocades Fabric …

Brocades XPath Technology may be the key to delivering SAN fabric applications, but without ISV support, no platform can survive. The current roster of Brocade Development Partners includes Alacritus, CommVault Systems Inc., FalconStor, Hewlett-Packard Co., Incipient Inc., InterSAN Inc., StoreAge and Topio Inc.

In the future, expect to see these vendors create applications in the areas of:

  • Fabric-based disk virtualization
  • Fabric-based tape virtualization
  • Fabric-based backup and disaster recovery