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IBM's Storage Tank Looks to Shell Rivals

IBM Monday dropped the equivalent of a storage bomb against rival systems vendors EMC , HP and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) with the official unveiling of a new storage area network (SAN) file system that lets customers share billions of diverse files.

Armonk, N.Y.'s IBM pulled back the curtain on a finished product derived from suite of experimental technologies it dubbed "Storage Tank," which has been baking in the company's Almaden Research Center for the last five to six years. The finished product is called TotalStorage SAN File System and it's designed to provide one medium of control to manage storage devices and data, as opposed to multiple control points.

Managing disparate file systems has been a nightmare for IT managers. Crafting a SAN that shares an almost limitless amount of files irrespective of their make-up has been a challenge for storage vendors -- until now, according to IBM. The SAN File System pools servers in multiple locations over an IP network, allowing the distributed storage network to have the look and feel of a local file system.

Bruce Hillsberg, director of storage software strategy and technology at IBM, said the point of the SAN File System is to help companies with large data warehousing needs and customers deploying grid computing environments become more competitive by providing an easier way for administrators to manage the massive amounts of data that is stored.

Hillsberg told internetnews.com that in today's environment, SANs have lots of application servers, all of which have different file systems. The traditional thorn in the side of administrators is that each file system is managed separately, making it difficult to set consistent user policies, or instructions on how the files can be accessed. It's also a challenge to manage the space in a SAN, he said.

"Every operating system has its own file system with its own way to manage it" Hillsberg explained. "Instead of trying to build software that tries to hide or mask those differences we've built software that automatically manages it from the beginning."

Hillsberg also said one of the reasons why a product like San File System is important is that many enterprises organize data in different ways and attach different significance to their data. That is to say, some data is managed via high-end storage arrays while some is less critical and corralled through lower-cost storage. This storage is managed manually, server by server and file by file, making it time consuming.

The new IBM file system automatically sets policies and shuttles data to the appropriate server pools based on their degree of importance. Such "modernization" off the file system increases workers' productivity. Designed to support thousands of computers, SAN File system also features distributed file locking and file-based FlashCopy to jazz up file sharing, and boosts productivity by automating routine data management tasks.

Forrester Research analyst Anders Lofgren said the technology looks solid, noting that it has been a long time coming.

"I think when you take a look at it has the potential to significantly change the way end-users manage storage," Lofgren said. The caveat, he said, is to convince end-users to migrate to the new architecture. "IBM has attempted as much to make it as non-intrusive as possible. Customers don't have to rip and replace existing hardware with new products. The software lets them take a more phased approach."

While other vendors don't have comparable products, Lofgren said companies like HP and EMC are working to address the same problem in different ways.

The SAN File System will be available November 14 at $90,000 for a starter configuration through resellers and IBM.

In related news, Big Blue busted out additional upgrades Monday, including the latest iteration of IBM TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller software, the company's virtualization technology that is designed to support storage disk arrays from other storage vendors, including Hitachi and Hewlett Packard. This will be available for download from IBM's Web site on November 14 and is accompanied by for the Cisco MDS 9000 Caching Services Module.

IBM Monday also unveiled new intelligent management capabilities in its Tivoli line for its zSeries mainframes.

They are: Tivoli Management Portal, which interfaces directly with IBM zSeries performance monitoring tools, providing a single point of visibility across the entire zSeries operating system; Tivoli Storage Optimizer, a new tool delivering near real-time monitoring of an organization's storage environment; and Tivoli Performance Modeler, which gives users the ability to develop performance models for IT resource capacity planning.