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Modernize mainframe storage

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FICON has been a boon for Albertsons Inc., of Dublin, CA, a multistate grocer with 2,300 stores in 31 states and sales of nearly $40 billion. With approximately 30TB of mainframe transaction storage and a 35TB Teradata data warehouse for data analysis, Albertsons recently combined its open systems and mainframe administrative groups and has been working to bring its IBM Shark and EMC Symmetrix storage under a single management banner.

The opportunity came last year, when Albertsons built a new data center and upgraded its mainframe connections to FICON. In the new data center, the use of FICON has reduced the volume of cabling by a factor of four and--via an Inrange Fibre Channel Director--provided a common connectivity platform for both mainframe and open systems storage. It's also allowed both types of servers to share Albertsons' StorageTek 3494 automated tape library and 3590 tape drives, and has sped the mirroring of data between primary and backup data centers 12 km apart.

Once 2Gb/s FC technology is available, Bob Lembo, the manager of enterprise storage with Albertsons is confident FICON's similarities will allow it to smoothly follow FC to speed data's movement around the systems. And while it had previously used proprietary IBM and EMC software, Albertsons recently implemented Computer Associates' BrightStor to manage both environments from a single interface.

"Since most of our core applications remained on the mainframe,

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we had to install the mainframes in the new data center," Lembo says. "Open systems still have a way to go, so we try to deploy technologies where we can leverage one technology for both platforms. We will take advantage of new technology when we need it."

Marriott stays with
mainframe storage
Marriott International, of Washington, DC, has been using mainframes for years. With a considerable investment already put into the systems, the worldwide hospitality giant--which manages over 2,400 properties in 64 countries--is continuing to extend its life with a series of upgrades that reinforce the mainframe's role as the center of Marriott's business. Next year, Marriott will move from its current ESCON to a FICON interconnect that will speed data flow between the mainframe, tape drive and tape silo.

The company's 2TB of mainframe data--supporting a pair of IBM 9672 mainframes--are stored on an IBM Shark disk system that replaced an IBM RAMAC virtual array several years ago. The Shark system also provides around 6TB of data for Marriott's Windows NT environment.

Backup is naturally a major concern for the company, and the need to improve backup speed recently led to an upgrade from a StorageTek 4490 tape silo to a StorageTek 9840 tape drive. The new system's higher-density tapes have reduced the number of backup tapes by a ratio of 23:1, freeing up a large number of slots that will soon be used to back up the company's open systems storage.

In Marriott's configuration, the open systems servers will be piggybacking on the mainframe environment. Data coming from the Veritas NetBackup system, which backs up the company's open systems, will be routed to the mainframe for management and transfer to the tape silo. This process will be restricted to a standalone backup SAN so that other environments are not affected.

Ultimately, Iñiguez sees the mainframe and open systems worlds "converging slowly into an asset that can be used cross platform." But, she adds, "I don't think it's something that's going to happen quickly."

Divide or conquer?
The different experiences of Albertsons and New Jersey's Office of Information Technology reflect the conflict that's facing administrators of mainframe storage. On the one hand, compelling cost equations and the need to upgrade aging equipment is pressuring them to combine mainframe and open systems storage on the same storage array. But on the other hand, doing so exposes mainframes to the still-evolving management of open systems SANs. For this reason, many storage experts are finding it's easier to let the mainframe people do what they know best, and let open systems storage managers watch and learn.

Over the next year, vendors will continue closing the longstanding gaps between mainframe and open systems storage. But their real challenge lies in easing the management of multiplatform storage: FICON provides the connectivity, and the upcoming will see vendors filling in the rest of the equation.

"We've seen a real change in attitude to storage from a mainframe perspective over the last year, but the roadblock is still the management of the storage environment," says Ted Newman, a practice leader in the Systems and Storage Practice of consulting firm Greenwich Technology Partners, White Plains, NY.

Newman believes improving management and technological integration will drive the creation of a centrally managed storage utility model. "Whereas companies previously had only a small number of people knowing how to administer storage, now they can focus on functionality, policies and procedures associated with how you delegate storage to hosts," he says.

Although applications such as Veritas' SANPoint Control and CA's BrightStor are feeling their way towards cross-platform storage management, standardization of management protocols such as Common Information Management (CIM), Bluefin, and EMC's WideSky universal translator will drag mainframe and open system storage onto common ground. That ensures storage administrators can continue to benefit from mainframe reliability while supporting the proliferation of open systems common in most enterprises.

Not all mainframes will make the transition with equal ease, however. Older VSAM-based data structures--which have little resemblance to FC's fixed-block architecture--will have trouble moving into more modern environments. So, too, will less-mainstream mainframe platforms from vendors such as Unisys, Blue Bell, PA. Ninety percent of the storage Unisys ships is directly connected to its MCP- and OS2200-based mainframes. Although those systems can be hooked into SANs, they require a dedicated path through the SAN switches and "don't like to lose their dedicated ports," says Fred Hanhauser, Unisys' director of marketing for storage products, who concedes that continuing support for the two systems is a ponderous effort.

"Any time we add in a device to mainframes--even a new tape device--it takes us a long time to update the drivers," he says. "Generally speaking, it's a year's worth of work. We go to a lot of [effort] to prove the value of applications currently running on our mainframes and I think we'll see these products continue well into the future. But for new applications, customers are buying open systems," such as Unisys' Intel and Windows 2000-based ES7000 servers.

Customers moving away from mainframe environments inevitably face the question of whether it's better to maintain separate, monolithic mainframe storage or move everything to a mixed mainframe and open systems storage array. This approach is more than simply one of convenience: stringent caching requirements of the mainframe tend to favor dedicated storage tuned for mainframe environments, and you can take a performance hit by configuring the box to support open systems as well.

The key to making this decision is to weigh the management benefits of having a single platform against the performance benefits that may be gained by retaining separate mainframe storage. Assessing both options in terms of cost--both directly (acquisition and staffing costs) and indirectly (the potential impact on business performance if transactional systems are slowed)--is one way to compare them.

As open systems servers continue their unstoppable push towards high-end legitimacy, even mainframes are beginning to take a few tips from their less-expensive cousins. It's only recently, for example, that they've gained support for RAID-10, a longtime standby of open systems environments that allows data striping across aggregated volumes.

Some mainframe storage managers are warming to another open systems technique: using inexpensive arrays of disks to provide nearline storage as an alternative to tape. Storage management independent software vendor (ISV) Fujitsu Softek, for one, plans to launch a product letting mainframe storage managers virtualize pools of mainframe and open systems storage across JBOD arrays.

Properly managed, the JBODs can slash storage TCO and boost performance up to eight times compared with using FICON to prop up aging disk arrays, according to Scott Kennedy, Softek's vice president of strategic business development. Such arrays can then be used in place of tape to increase mainframe storage efficiency by speeding access to data stored in hierarchical storage management (HSM) systems.

This was first published in February 2003

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