Storage vendors move beyond blocks and LUNs

Innovations, acquisitions, and partnerships pave the way to smarter storage

No single storage technology stole the spotlight in 2005, but the year was nonetheless an exciting one that featured new products in areas such as data protection and virtualization as well as important developments in disks, tapes, and switches.

For example, a number of 4Gbps FC (Fibre Channel) products, including host adapters, switches, and disk arrays, proved that the technology is ready to be installed in every corner of your SAN. And by the end of the year, most disk vendors had released drives with 500GB capacity, increasing the previous maximum by 25 percent.

Shopping for disk arrays has never been more challenging, thanks to an unprecedented array of choices ranging from impressive entry-level units (Dell/EMC's AX100) to top-tier models (Hitachi's TagmaStor and EMC's Symmetrix DMX). Innovative products from new vendors such as Compellent and Pillar Data Systems proved that you can teach an old technology new tricks. This year the combination of high-capacity SATA and high-performance SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives will create versatile enclosures that are easy to adjust for varying capacity and performance requirements.

The term "virtualization" has no doubt been overused, but during 2005, various twists on the technology flourished in the storage arena, bringing Click for larger view. us virtualized tape libraries, LUNs (logical unit numbers), and file systems. For example, EMC finally revealed its strategy in network storage virtualization, based on its own box, Invista, and intelligent switches from the triad of major vendors. QLogic played quick catch up in that space, purchasing Troika's hardware acceleration and virtualization platform, and Network Appliance also introduced virtualization capabilities.

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The term "virtualization" has no doubt been overused, but during 2005, various twists on the technology flourished in the storage arena, bringing Click for larger view. us virtualized tape libraries, LUNs (logical unit numbers), and file systems. For example, EMC finally revealed its strategy in network storage virtualization, based on its own box, Invista, and intelligent switches from the triad of major vendors. QLogic played quick catch up in that space, purchasing Troika's hardware acceleration and virtualization platform, and Network Appliance also introduced virtualization capabilities.

And just about every major vendor is adding virtual tape products to its portfolio, often combining basic backup functionality with other data-protection or data-migration features. Acquisitions played a big role in 2005; many of them, such as Sun's purchase of StorageTek and NetApp's nabbing of Decru, suggest the tides of data protection, compliance, and security will continue to rise this year.

Similarly, Hewlett-Packard's acquisition of AppIQ should stoke the fires of competition in SAN management and better position HP against competing solutions from rivals such as Computer Associates and Symantec/Veritas.

All things considered, it is reasonable to expect this year's storage solutions to be more secure, scalable, and easy to manage. But focusing only on those traditional aspects would be to miss an important part of the story. Storage vendors are once again becoming more attentive to customers' real, app-driven needs, giving them powerful and scalable file systems rather than merely serving blocks and LUNs.

This is the reason behind acquisitions such as EMC-Rainfinity and NetApp-Spinnaker and alliances such as HP-PolyServe. These partnerships all combine different technologies, but they share in common a view of storage as a large, flexible repository of files, and the desire to make underlying technical differences disappear. Not a bad goal for storage vendors, and good news for storage customers.

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