Opinion: The 3Par challenge

Imagine a simple, modular, scalable enterprise storage system with 192 Fibre Channel ports that can interconnect all your mixed-vendor storage servers and implement every storage management function your heart desires in as few as two mouse clicks. Too good to be true, right?

But such is the promise of 3ParData Inc.'s InServ Storage Servers, and the startup is betting its venture-capital funds that its new storage hardware and software products will start moving customers off the mammoth arrays from EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems Corp.

With beta versions already in the laps of a slew of Fortune 1000 companies, 3Par's InServ promises limitless flexibility to meet business demands, jaw-dropping performance, and a TCO (total cost of ownership) that should soothe even the deepest budgetary wounds.

Validated by old reliables such as Oracle Corp., Veritas Software Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. and expected to arrive in the third quarter of this year, 3Par's InServ is a leviathan of storage network connectivity.

InServ storage building blocks can scale from 94TB to 376TB, with a transfer rate as fast as 4,000MBps and the ability to sustain as many as 100,000 IOPS (I/O operations per second) for typical OLTP (online transaction processing) applications. These outstanding metrics are the result of a mesh architecture based on controller nodes -- intelligent devices that connect multiple drive chassis inside the InServ.

To save floor space, 3Par has developed an interesting modular design, borrowing the concept of tape library magazines to achieve an exceptional storage density. You can pack 10 disk magazines -- each with room for four disk drives -- in a 4U chassis, and you can stack four chassis in a cabinet, all the way up to an impressive drive count of 2,560. With this architecture, 3Par components can fail-over to one another, and each component can be hot-replaced without affecting other activities.

Excellent capacity and performance packed within a convincing hardware architecture are only part of the innovation from 3Par. Running on each controller, 3Par's operating system, InForm, offers administrative features such as volume management (discrete of each component), virtualization, and point-in-time copies, essentially removing storage administration burdens from servers' OSes. Future versions of InServ will allow remote, IP WAN-based mirroring.

But right from the start, 3Par's InServ will offer ironclad resiliency because the distributed InForm OS coordinates the activities of every storage controller, taking tasks running on potentially faulty controllers and automatically switching them to the survivors, for example.

If 3Par's InServ system is truly a dream come true for storage administrators, it will likely be Hitachi's and EMC's worst nightmare as users begin to realize how simple storage networking can become.

Having storage dreams or nightmares? E-mail us at dan_neel@infoworld.com and mario_apicella@infoworld.com.

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