IBM unveils storage management system

Big Blue steps up its on-demand computing efforts, announcing the shipping date for a product to link servers and data storage devices for better data access.

Ed Frauenheim
Ed Frauenheim Former Staff Writer, News
Ed Frauenheim covers employment trends, specializing in outsourcing, training and pay issues.
3 min read
Adding to IBM's on-demand computing initiative, Big Blue announced on Monday a mid-November shipping date for a product to link servers and data storage devices for better information access and management.

The software product, set for release on Nov. 14, comes from an IBM research project, code-named Storage Tank, and is officially called IBM TotalStorage SAN File System. SAN refers to storage area networks, which connect storage devices and are often used by larger companies to hold data.

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SAN File System works by tying together servers in multiple locations over an Internet Protocol network and then allowing the distributed storage network to look and behave like a local file system, no matter where or on what operating system the data resides, according to IBM. Software keeps track of descriptive information--"metadata" such as physical locations, file sizes or access permissions--that accompanies the actual content within the files, IBM said.

The SAN File System software runs on metadata servers dedicated to it. In addition, software has to be installed on other servers using the system. IBM said the SAN File System product--including two metadata servers--will be priced at $90,000 for a starter configuration.

John McArthur, an analyst at research firm IDC, said the SAN File System should make it easier for an organization to share information. Currently, companies often make copies of data for different uses, he said. For example, a company running a business management application from SAP might have a copy of the data used for ongoing operations, another copy used to develop additional applications, and still another that is used to "mine" the data--perhaps to look for new business opportunities.

Making snapshot copies, though, brings live operations briefly to a halt, McArthur said. SAN File System allows an organization to minimize copying, he suggested, by letting multiple servers access the same data. "That's not trivial," he said.

IBM said another advantage to SAN File System is that it can manage very high volumes of data. Big Blue said that the product will be able to manage petabytes of data--one petabyte is the equivalent of a million and a half CDs, IBM said.

Brian Truskowski, general manager of storage software at IBM, said the SAN File System goes beyond current storage management products that merely monitor storage resources. "You can't just put a dashboard over a manual transmission--you need an automatic transmission," he said.

With SAN File System, companies can automatically expand the storage capacity allocated to a particular application, IBM said, or the system can alert an information technology manager that an expansion is needed.

The product is part of IBM's bid to develop so-called on-demand computing. Under the on-demand concept, IT resources are available as necessary to handle spikes in usage. Competitors Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems are working on similar efforts.

Storage virtualization
The SAN File System follows other IBM products that "virtualize" storage resources. In July, IBM began shipping the SAN Volume Controller, which includes software that pools storage devices together so they can be used more effectively. The software is installed on IBM xSeries servers running the Linux operating system.

IBM also has released SAN Integration Server, a package that includes the SAN Volume Controller, switches and storage disks.

Besides introducing the SAN File System, IBM is announcing other virtualization product changes. A new version of SAN Volume Controller software designed to support storage disk arrays from Hitachi and HP will be available for download from IBM's Web site on Nov. 14, IBM said.

The company also said its SAN Volume Controller storage software is being built into a Cisco Systems switch, called the Cisco MDS 9000. In addition, IBM announced upgrades to its Tivoli storage management software products.

The SAN File System works on servers running IBM's AIX version of the Unix operating system, as well as certain Windows operating systems. Support for additional operating systems is planned for next year, IBM's Truskowski said.

On the storage device side of the equation, SAN File System supports IBM devices such as the "Shark" product. Support for non-IBM storage devices is slated for next year, Truskowski said. Using the SAN File System with the upgraded SAN Volume Controller would allow the file system product to work with Hitachi and HP arrays, he said.