The news from SNW

Vendor consolidation and alliances are this year’s emerging trend

It's the week of SNW (Storage Networking World) Spring, probably the most important event for the storage industry and its customers.

An exhaustive summary of the show, inclusive of speeches, live demos, and training sessions, would probably fill a large book -- maybe two, if we include sideshows such as golfing and dinners. As I write this, the show is still going on; so instead of giving you a summary, I'll outline the major trends emerging so far.

One of the rumblings at the show concerns iSCSI (Internet SCSI) transport for storage. Although the technology is not new, some new developments suggest a widespread deployment in the future.

Consider Decru's release of a security appliance that brings comprehensive data protection, previously available only for FC (Fibre Channel), to iSCSI storage. Or Alacritech expanding its line of accelerator cards for iSCSI and Gigabit Ethernet while claiming independently achieved record-breaking performance by both.

When compared with FC and other transport protocols, iSCSI has always gotten a black eye over performance. Until now, performance has been bound to a maximum data transfer rate of 1Gbps. I say "until now" because at least two vendors promised to show 10Gbps solutions at SNW, though I haven't met with them yet. Obviously, faster iSCSI will accelerate the adoption of 4Gbps FC transport, another emerging trend.

It's not exactly a newborn vogue, but vendors are still trying to make storage more palatable for SMBs. The latest claim in that area comes from Brocade and Emulex, which are doing a joint demo of EZPilot, a storage-configuration wizard that guides Microsoft Windows administrators through an easy install of their SAN.

I am told that EZPilot capitalizes on some advanced features in Microsoft server operating systems, such as MPIO (multipath I/O) and VDS (Virtual Disk Services). You may remember that Microsoft introduced the VDS APIs in Windows Server 2003 to create a common administrative layer for different storage devices.

Virtualization is hardly a new topic, but it was interesting to see Network Appliance, one of the storage heavyweights, enter the fight against contenders EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM just days before SNW. NetApp announced that its gFiler  appliances, aptly renamed V-Series for the occasion, have evolved into virtualization engines capable of offering unified access to file serving and block serving from a variety of storage arrays using both FC and IP transport.

EMC's products are notably missing from the range of supported storage arrays because, NetApp explains, the two companies couldn't reach an agreement and offer customers a single contact point for technical support.

In other words, it's just business (should I say nonbusiness?) as usual between the two vendors. The added competition that the V-Series appliances bring to the upcoming EMC Storage Router is certainly not going to sweeten that relationship anytime soon.

Just hours before SNW, IBM showed considerable fair play with an agreement to rebrand and sell NetApp's filers and iSCSI storage. Previously, IBM has been dancing a customer-confusing paso double with its IP storage, but this alliance with NetApp could bring back some of the lost sheep.

I have to close with another move from NetApp: the acquisition of Alacritus, this too coming out of the blue just before the show. Perhaps it's too early to speculate, but it doesn't take an oracle to divine that Alacritus VTL (virtual tape library) will make a needed addition to NetApp's product line, which otherwise covers all the bases.

Incidentally, as recent announcements from Quantum and FalconStor show, VTL is another hot tamale this year, but I'm running long, and it's time to go back to the show.

Join me on The Storage Network blog to discuss this and other topics.


Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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