IBM to expand server spec to accommodate SANs

IBM later this month will significantly expand its X Architecture server specification to accommodate an aggressive storage-area network (SAN) strategy.

At PC Expo, IBM will unveil some of the central components of that strategy, which include: its first eight-way Intel-based server running Windows NT; working with its Corn Husker middleware for managing clusters with up to eight nodes; and the SP Switch.

"There are a series of barriers that allow Intel-based boxes to perform as truly enterprise-ready servers, and one of them is having a robust enterprise storage solution. We think this SAN offering will annihilate that barrier," said Tom Bradicich, director of IBM's Netfinity architecture and development, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

IBM's X Architecture is the design blueprint for building enterprise-level capabilities into IBM products, such as its S/390 mainframes and its AS/400, RS/6000, and Netfinity servers.

Analysts believe that IBM has already laid out a solid framework for ushering in its SAN strategy, which the company needs to have in place in order to compete more effectively with EMC and a host of other potential competitors.

"In any configuration like [a SAN] you need to have an engine which is where the eight-way [server] fits in," said James Gruener, an analyst with Aberdeen Group, in Boston. "What really positions IBM well right now is its X Architecture, which lays a road map for other technologies that boost availability and performance."

Also at PC Expo, IBM will show off for the first time what it calls a "distributed hot spare," which allows administrators to use one of the typically inactive drives in a Dynamic Access Storage Device array for productive work. In today's server configurations, only one drive is active, with the others standing by only in the case that the primary drive fails.

"In everyone's setups today, those drives `sitting on the bench' are not being used for productive work. We can pull one of those off the bench to help out with a number of things as well as improve performance," Bradicich said. "In the future, we will be able to apply this technology to an entire array of standbys."

With a SAN strategy in place, IBM can offer corporate users much more flexibility in storage strategy by allowing them to physically separate large amounts of storage from the host, to share multiple hosts, and to connect hosts in a peer-to-peer or hostless configuration. The latter option should result in higher performance, reliability, and scalability because it takes better advantage of data mirroring and remote mirroring.

The new pieces of the company's SAN strategy will dovetail with products based on its Future I/O specification, which are not expected until the second half of next year.

"With Future I/O, we will be able to do continentwide SANs, not just over a few miles. If something happens to data at the primary source, then you can retrieve it all in 30 seconds," Bradicich said.

Also at PC Expo, IBM will demonstrate a Netfinity server being used as a security front end to an S/390 mainframe. IBM will include a new cryptographic card in Netfinity servers that lets them handle thousands of "signatures," or transactions, per second.

Separately, IBM will demonstrate next week at the Desktop Management Task Force Conference in San Jose, CA what they believe to be an industry first -- a controller that allows administrators to perform diagnostics over the Internet on a Windows NT-based server without bringing that server down to do so.

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