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Cisco, IBM: Viva La Virtualization!

Cisco and IBM refreshed their broad infrastructure partnership Wednesday, introducing a virtualization product geared to help customers better corral data.

Much-ballyhooed but not as widely implemented as high-tech analysts would like, virtualization aims to improve the use of storage resources by pooling physical storage from multiple network storage devices into what appears to be a single storage device that is managed from one console.

It allows administrators to more easily and cost-effectively manage storage assets at a time when cutting storage area network (SAN) complexity and trimming expenses is paramount.

Armonk, N.Y.'s IBM and San Jose, Calif.'s Cisco will pair their storage software and switches, respectively, to help customers conduct volume management, data replication, and point-in-time copies directly from the network from one access point across several storage subsystems. The combination product is based on IBM's TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller software, which will be hosted on the Cisco MDS 9000 Multilayer Intelligent SAN directors and fabric switches.

TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller enables dynamic provisioning from the Cisco switches, meaning users can avoid taking servers or systems offline as maintenance or troubleshooting are required. The point is to help IT administrators consolidate many diverse storage subsystems -- from double figures or even into the hundreds -- into pools of storage files that may be easily managed.

Several companies competing in storage recognize the importance of virtualization, including IBM, HP and EMC. But product managers for those companies often stress that customers aren't "asking" for virtualization, but instead describe a scenario to which the technology method could be applied.

Analysts say this is because vendors have not properly educated customers about the benefits of virtualization. Still, vendors have made sure to roll out solutions employing the technology over the last year or so.

Ed Chapman, senior director of product management for the Storage Technology Group at Cisco, and Roger Wofford, worldwide product marketing for IBM Storage Software, said offering a joint solution posed signifcant value for customers over point solutions from other vendors.

"Customers need something from which they can access storage not only heterogeneously across their infrastructure but with end-to-end connectivity," Chapman said. "This joint development effort certainly provides a solution to our customers who want to go with an IBM server layer and host layer and use the same TotalStorage software from a user interface perspective on an appliance or switch."

No dollar value was offered for the pact, the latest in a long line of similar deals to help improve each other's offerings to the public through the co-branding of two renowned vendors.

IBM has been reselling the Cisco MDS 9000 switch family since they were introduced after Cisco purchased Andiamo in August of 2002. IBM and Cisco are working together to deploy up to 8,000 Cisco MDS 9000 ports for the AXA Group, the largest planned implementation for the Cisco SAN switches to date.

"By integrating IBM's intelligent storage virtualization technology into Cisco's MDS 9000 switches, customers are now presented with more options to reduce the pain, complexity and administration of their storage networks," said Jens Tiedemann, Vice President Storage Software Marketing, IBM, in a statement.

Cisco's new Caching Services Module will host the IBM TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller Storage Software for Cisco MDS 9000. The Caching Services Module, which includes two independent nodes for IBM's software, offers 8 gigabytes of cached memory and is hot-swappable, with redundantly configured components. Customers can deploy this module in either the Cisco MDS 9500 series directors or in the Cisco MDS 9216 fabric switch.

The SAN Volume Controller for the Cisco MDS 9000 Solution will provide high availability through redundant hardware components and process restarts; logical SAN partitioning through Virtual SANs (VSANs) for scalability; a security framework, including support for Secure Shell (SSH), RADIUS authentication, SNMPv.3, role-based access control, and FC-SP to guard against unauthorized management access; diagnostics and troubleshooting, including 'call-home' for hardware and software errors; and integrated management tools such as the Cisco Fabric Manager and a command line interface able for configuring and provisioning of storage.

The IBM SAN Volume Controller for Cisco MDS 9000 is expected to be generally available through IBM and IBM business partners beginning December 5.



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