Boxing your storage controls

Just about all storage vendors seem to be buying in to the concept that key functions such as volume management should reside on network devices rather than on applications or storage servers.

It's difficult to disagree with that notion because sitting on top of the network hill, say on an FC (Fibre Channel) switch, as proposed by switch vendors including Brocade, Cisco,and McData, management applications have an unimpeded view of the storage landscape, which is more difficult to achieve from the secluded valleys where hosts and storage arrays live.

Obviously, this idea is good news for switch vendors who are busily retrofitting their products to host management applications. However, don't bet your last chip on FC switches being the only temple on the network hill for centralized management.

In fact, Troika Networks is getting ready to launch in September what the company labels "our first intelligent platform for hosting applications in the SAN." Bearing the auspicious name "Kahuna," Troika's new platform merges application hosting and connectivity in a single 2U box, which includes an NSS (Network Storage Services) appliance based on a cluster of Linux servers, and a 16-port FC switch.

The company plans to offer, in cooperation with partners, several strategic storage services on the Kahuna platform. In fact, in addition to virtualization services, available in September, future enhancements, expected in 2004, should address data replication and backups.

Troika Networks is not the only company proposing an alternative platform for FC switches to host centralized storage applications. In fact, with its network storage controllers based on the company's U*Star architecture, Candera promises centralized storage provisioning from major storage arrays and seamless interoperability with existing devices.

Understandably, while pursuing patents to protect its intellectually property, Candera has not disclosed much of the technology behind U*Star, but it's easy to connect the dots and classify their solution as an alternative approach to switch-based applications.

It could appear that only relatively new entrants to the storage market are thinking out of the switch box, but this is not the case. In fact, IBM in July released TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller, essentially a cluster of Linux servers that virtualize, provision, and cache storage for major OSes from its FASt and ESS (Enterprise Storage Server) storage arrays.

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