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IBM enhances storage virtualization

The company is set to release two products designed to treat data storage systems as one large pool, resulting in more flexibility and lower costs.

IBM is poised to ship two data storage virtualization products in July, the latest step in the industry?s push to squeeze more productivity out of storage systems.

Big Blue on Tuesday will announce a shipping date of July 25 for its TotalStorage Storage Area Network (SAN) Volume Controller and its SAN Integration Server. The SAN Volume Controller includes software that "virtualizes" storage devices by pooling them together so they can be used more effectively. The software is installed on IBM xSeries servers running the Linux operating system.

The SAN Integration Server is a broader package that includes the SAN Volume Controller, switches and storage disks.

Companies on average utilize 40 percent to 60 percent of their storage systems, according to Brian Truskowski, general manager of IBM Storage Software. He says virtualization technology can push utilization rates to above 80 percent.

The products are part of an IBM effort to provide on-demand computing for customers. They also may boost other companies selling virtualization products, said Mike Kahn, managing director of technology consulting firm The Clipper Group. "It may help legitimize what has been a difficult market for organizations selling virtualization."

Kahn said large corporations have been slow to adopt virtualization technologies partly because of concerns that the systems could create new problems. Other companies selling virtualization products include DataCore Software and Hewlett-Packard.

IBM says its SAN Volume Controller stands out for being able to control multiple storage disk arrays, and for coming pre-installed on a device. It's more of a "plug and play" appliance, Truskowski said.

Kahn agreed that companies are increasingly interested in integrated storage systems rather than standalone software. "I think the trend is clearly toward doing less integration yourself," he said. "Integration gets to be very complicated."

IBM's SAN Volume Controller is aimed at customers who already have SANs, linked storage devices typically used by large companies. The entry-level configuration of the SAN Volume Controller will be priced at $60,000. IBM said the SAN Integration Server is targeted at customers looking to implement their first SAN, as well as current SAN customers that want to implement additional SANs efficiently. It has a base price of $140,000.

The products initially will work only with IBM storage devices. But IBM said that later this year an upgrade will be available to provide support for competing systems.

According to IBM's Truskowski, virtualization also promises to reduce the burden of reallocating space in storage systems as the demands for different business applications change.

Another benefit, he said, is that they prevent critical business applications from having to be taken offline to adjust storage requirements. "You can do it all behind the scenes and the application never has to stop running," he said.

IBM's releases come amid a slump in the storage industry because of overcapacity and improving storage management methods, which makes additional capacity less important. In this climate, a number of storage companies are turning their attention to software products.

Kahn suggested IBM's virtualization products are far from the final word in storage advances. "This is a market of leapfrogging," he said.