New switches, routers boast storage virtualization

Network professionals who want to save money by more efficiently managing their storage resources may find use for Fibre Channel routers and switches being introduced this week.

Storage vendor Crossroads Systems Inc. and network gear vendor Network Peripherals Inc. (NPI) will offer storage virtualization software on routers and switches they will ship this summer that eliminate the need for separate data-pooling appliances and servers.

The key to these products is the virtualization software that takes disparate storage resources and combines them into a single pool of data that can be moved logically from server to server as storage needs change. In Windows NT networks, in particular, experts say a large amount of storage attached to servers is underutilized. NT's architecture prevents servers from sharing this storage, leaving network managers with the quandary of how to share and effectively use the storage.

With storage virtualization, servers 'think' they see physical storage when in fact they are attached to virtual storage drawn from a common pool of data. The software allows network managers to congregate data that might be underutilized on one server and assign it to other servers.

Crossroads will announce that its upcoming SCSI-to-Fibre Channel router, code-named Catamaran I, will optionally include FalconStor's recently introduced IPStor virtualization software. Future Enterprise Systems Connection-to-PCI and InfiniBand routers from Crossroads will also include virtualization software as an option. The feature will let mainframe data and data stored on InfiniBand-based storage devices be added to the storage pool. InfiniBand is a switched-fabric I/O technology that links servers to network and storage devices. Products supporting the technology are expected later this year.

NPI will introduce its XSAN switch, an IP storage box that lets SCSI storage data run across an Ethernet network. XSAN will also include FalconStor's virtualization software. The XSAN switch is a six- or 12-port Gigabit Ethernet switch with two IP Storage ports and two Fibre Channel ports. The switch resides between SCSI or Fibre Channel storage devices and the Ethernet network, and uses the network to route data to users.

Crossroads will ship its first Catamaran router this summer. NPI will ship XSAN in July. Pricing has not been determined.

TV station 13/WNET in New York uses virtual storage software from DataCore to move storage that might be underutilized on one server into a pool of data that can be shared among users.

Ken Devine, CIO for 13/ WNET, a public broadcasting network in New York, uses data virtualization software to gather storage from multiple NT and Solaris servers.

"We perform a tremendous amount of nonlinear video editing, which consumes great amounts of storage," Devine says. "[With virtualization], we can remain open 24-7, with no downtime." He has Windows NT and Solaris servers, and Just a Bunch of Disks and Serial Storage Architecture storage.

Mike Kahn, an analyst with Clipper Group, says storage virtualization will be one of the most important technology changes in years, because so many users have storage they want to use but can't because it is attached to one server or another. "Virtualization makes so much sense that every midsize to large enterprise will move in this direction. It's just a matter of when," he says.

Historically, virtualization packages from Compaq, Veritas, Xiotech and Gadzoox have put the software on a separate application server. In January, Gadzoox shipped its Axxess product, which uses data pooled by virtualization software residing on an industry-standard server. Dot Hill, a storage vendor in Carlsbad, Calif., announced earlier this year that virtualization software can run on its storage arrays, thus eliminating the need for a separate virtualization server.

Kahn says the jury is still out on where virtualization should be placed in the network. He says the concept is so new that it is still too early to decide whether it is better to place the software on a router, switch or separate server appliance.

Router and switch vendors, however, point to advantages for users in putting virtualization software on their devices. For instance, adding virtualization to a router makes a lot of sense. While adding a slight increase in CPU and memory, it offers fail-over and recovery with the addition of redundant routers if necessary, as well as the capability to add network-attached storage and legacy storage devices such as mainframe arrays into the data pool, Crossroads says.

Router implementation also allows virtualization to span high-speed network links such as ATM or IP, or metropolitan-area networks.

With the virtualization software implemented on a switch, network managers might worry about added latency. Wayne Lam, vice president of marketing for FalconStor, says its IPStor software uses a technique called zero memory copy, which lessens the effect of this latency.

But several Fibre Channel switch vendors, such as Brocade and Vixel, say they would resist adding virtualization software to their products.

They want the system and storage vendors they have agreements with to be able to choose where virtualization resides.

Crossroads: www.cross roads.com; NPI: www.npi.com

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