EMC joins with Brocade in storage virtualization push

EMC Corp. last week said it plans to develop storage management software for a new line of Brocade Communications Systems Inc. switches that support network-based storage virtualization.

EMC is the second major storage vendor to embrace the SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform switch technology, which San Jose-based Brocade obtained as part of its January acquisition of Rhapsody Networks Inc. Brocade and Hewlett-Packard Co. announced a similar deal in January.

IT managers will be able to use the switches, which Brocade plans to sell through storage vendors such as HP and EMC, to view and manage multivendor devices on storage-area networks (SAN) as if they were a single entity, a process known as virtualization.

Brocade, the largest maker of SAN switches, acknowledged that the new hardware won't be of any practical use until at least the end of the year, when HP, EMC and a group of seven smaller vendors are due to start making their management applications available on the devices.

But some IT managers are already saying that intelligent switches like Brocade's are a step in the right direction.

Mark Deck, director of infrastructure technology at National Medical Health Card Systems Inc., a medical benefits management company in Port Washington, N.Y., plans to use HP's VersaStor storage virtualization software to help manage his 5.6TB SAN.

But Deck said he has run into an I/O bottleneck between HP's Continuous Access Storage Appliance and its higher-speed SureStor XP256 disk array. Once HP puts VersaStor on Brocade's switches, Deck said, he should be able to use his SAN's full 1Gbit/sec. bandwidth to transfer data between the different devices, thereby eliminating the bottleneck.

Bob Siravo, manager of enterprise storage at drug maker Wyeth in Madison, N.J., is rolling out the latest version of EMC's ControlCenter software to help manage a 50TB SAN that includes HP and EMC arrays. Siravo said he thinks the SAN is where storage management intelligence belongs, because it would let him divvy up storage capacity in the same way an energy utility distributes electricity.

But the Brocade/EMC announcement won't preclude Siravo from installing ControlCenter on individual disk arrays and servers. Wyeth has "an immediate need to have as much of a common tool to manage the environment as possible," he said.

Officials at Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC said the company initially plans to support virtualization, dynamic data routing and data classification capabilities on the Brocade switches.

John Webster, an analyst at Data Mobility Group Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said network-based virtualization technology has been available for a couple of years, mainly from start-ups such as DataCore Software Corp. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and FalconStor Software Inc. in Melville, N.Y. But Brocade's entry lends credibility to the technology, he said.

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