Vendors store all things great and small

Cisco Systems Inc. unveiled a storage switch ready for multiterabyte arrays of data at Cebit in Hanover, Germany.

Storage products announced at the Cebit trade show in Germany, last week spanned the range from a Cisco Systems storage switch ready for multiterabyte arrays of data, down to a new half-height tape drive from Tandberg Data.

Cisco presented its Storage Services Module (SSM), a line card for its MDS 9000 SAN (storage area network) platform. Sporting 32 Fibre Channel ports, the card can speed up storage network functions such as backup by taking control of operations from the host server, said company spokesman Dante Malagrino. The card runs SAN-OS 2.1, an updated version of Cisco's operating system for MDS 9000 components, and slots into Cisco's MDS 9500 Series directors or its MDS 9200 Series fabric switches, he said.

Third-party developers can write their applications to open application interfaces such as FAIS (Fabric Application Interface Standard) or SANTap, a protocol used to tap into transactions and commands in the heart of the SAN, according to Malagrino.

Indeed, it's those third-party applications that have prompted the launch, according to Richard Villars, vice president of storage systems research at analyst company IDC. The architecture of the company's existing module, the Storage Volume Manager, works fine for current third-party applications, while the new module's launch is in anticipation of a forthcoming EMC storage router product, he said.

At Cebit, EMC and other third party storage vendors, including Veritas Software, announced their support for the Cisco platform. EMC demonstrated a storage virtualization application for the platform at the show.

Cisco also announced that other storage software vendors will support the SANTap service on their appliances, among them Alacritus Software, Cloverleaf Communications, FalconStor Software, Kashya, Topio and Xiotech. Cisco is demonstrating SANTap at the show using appliances from FalconStor, Kashya, Topio and Xiotech, it said.

EMC is also working with Lucent Technologies, which said it is testing a hosted storage service with a client in the U.S. The service is not yet ready for commercial launch, but Lucent plans to make an announcement about it in approximately two months, according to John Meyer, president of the company's worldwide services division.

Lucent has used its own optical networking equipment to link storage systems from EMC in its Denver, Colorado, hosting facility to the customer's premises. "It's generic storage. We are linking the customer's applications to the storage center and back," Meyer said.

When Lucent began working with EMC on the offer around three months ago, one obstacle they encountered was the way EMC motivates its sales staff: it was difficult getting EMC to change the commission plan for its sales staff so as to encourage them to sell the service, rather than boxes, Meyer said.

That reluctance to rent out systems is understandable, according to IDC's Villars: hosted storage gets talked about every four or five years in the industry, and the last time the concept of storage service providers (SSPs) came up, EMC, like many other companies, "got burnt by the whole SSP thing too," he said.

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) already offers a hosted service for archiving e-mail, said Villars. There's probably a good opportunity for that in the midmarket, he said, where having someone else worry about regulatory compliance can take a weight off a company's shoulders.

EMC had smaller customers in mind too, announcing a simplified set of product bundles to make specifying storage easier for small and midsize enterprises (SMEs). There are no new products in the range, called Express Solutions, but it does represent a new way of selling for the company, which is giving its resellers access to a new Web tool for specifying and ordering the systems. Prompted by the Web tool, resellers question customers about their needs and their existing systems; based on the information entered, the tool proposes a package of EMC products. "We know all the configurations generated by the wizard work together. It's a very safe first-time environment," said David Goulden, EMC's executive vice president of customer operations. The new bundles start at US$5,995.

The company is far from the first storage company to offer such bundles for small businesses: HP, too, has offered a SAN bundle. "It came with arrays, but ... there was no tape," said Villars. IBM Corp. and Dell Inc. both left out the tape from their SME offerings, too, he said, but customers "are used to tape. At least EMC acknowledges that tape is part of the SAN process."

There were no new announcements from Network Appliance Inc., but the company did demonstrate its dynamic storage virtualization and storage grid products, including its Data Ontap 7G storage operating system, which can virtualize scattered physical storage into a single pool.

Tandberg showed a half-height, 5.25-inch LTO-2 (Linear Tape Open-2) tape drive, the Tandberg 420LTO, which it said would appeal to the SME market because of its price, yet offer features more common in high-end products. The company plans a series of five half-height LTO drives, with storage capacities up to 3.2T bytes of compressed data on a single cartridge. The 420LTO will sell for around Euro 1,957 (US$2,616) excluding taxes, the company said. The company will also offer a rack-mounted autoloading system, the 1U LTO2 StorageLoader, incorporating the drive from April, it said.

Cebit runs through Wednesday in Hanover, Germany.

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