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EMC's Network Storage Venture

EMC unveiled Invista, software that will lead the company's highly anticipated entry into the storage virtualization market.

Invista is EMC's effort to silence critics and better compete with rivals, such as IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. Advanced software for Global 2000 enterprises, it is designed to be bundled with intelligent switches from partners Cisco Systems or Brocade Communications Systems.

Storage virtualization helps companies consolidate data from several applications or arrays, so that fewer computing machines are required. The approach lets companies simplify data center operations and all but eliminates downtime.

To this point, storage virtualization strategies have been "in-band" approaches, or based on hosts, appliances and arrays. But these approaches have introduced bottlenecks because they process within the data path.

Invista differs because it is 100 percent based on the network, according to EMC Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Mark Lewis, who introduced the product at a customer event in New Orleans Monday.

Invista copies, or moves, data across a network undisturbed and with zero latency. Invista allows IT administrators to create virtual volumes, lumping data from several storage devices into one pool from which users may draw. The virtualized volumes will allow admins to enjoy the reduced time it takes to mange volumes of data, Lewis said.

Because it connects to the Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) , Invista uses storage from a variety of devices without directly connecting devices to it. Unlike other solutions, Invista does not use cache to store data in the network, keeping the data safe from corruption on a storage array.

This "stateless" approach, as Lewis calls it, will virtually tie machines together. However, if one goes down, they won't all go down, because there is no physical tie, unlike with most virtualization techniques.

"We believe this is critical to customers, because, as you would add layers of virtualization, you may not be able to understand where the data is protected or even where your data is," Lewis said.

"We clearly believe that network-based virtualization is the only way to go for storage network virtualization," Lewis continued. "Using this out-of-band architecture, we are going to be able to scale to literally hundreds of petabytes of information."

Invista will use the new Fabric Application Interface Standard (FAIS) API for network-based applications to prevent vendor lock-in. To further accommodate the fact that customers' data centers may have gear from several vendors, Invista also runs in arrays made by EMC rivals IBM or Hitachi .

EMC will complete Invista beta testing this quarter, with general availability in the third quarter this year for EMC Connectrix-branded switches from Brocade and Cisco. The list price for an Invista configuration that can virtualize up to 64 terabytes of storage is $225,000.

Invista will be available for small- to medium-sized companies over time, as the market proves it can bear it, Lewis said.

Pund-It analyst Charles King said Invista is a unique approach with a great deal of performance perks. While IBM and HDS may have "over-engineered" their SAN Volume Controller and TagmaStore products, respectively, King said Invista is unique because it will support any software from those vendors.

"Consider that the last couple of years virtually every storage vendor has talked about storage intelligence moving on to the network," King said.

"I think it's interesting that EMC is going to switch partners and let them be center stage. By sharing the work and responsibility, they will also share the potential benefits moving forward if storage is heading into the network."