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Spotlight on midrange arrays

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By abstracting hardware from the data services, the StorEdge 6920 boosts performance and allows it to virtualize connected storage.
Sun StorEdge 6920
The StorEdge 6920 is Sun Microsystems Inc.'s first array with virtualization capabilities based on the technology it acquired with its 2002 purchase of Pirus Networks. The 6920 enables the pooling of storage for internal hard drives and external arrays, with an abstraction layer that separates data services like replication and snapshot from the hardware.

"Abstracting the hardware from the data services allows users to put whatever hardware they want on the back end and gives enough firepower to run high-performance applications," says Chris Wood, director of technical sales and marketing for Sun's Global Network Storage Division.

But today, the 6920 works only with Sun's StorEdge 6120s and 6130s. It will eventually support all Sun arrays and third-party products, Wood says. The 6920 starts at 4TB, scales to 65TB and provides up to 28 2Gb/sec FC ports. It can create pools of storage for up to 14 different application profiles, with I/O and caching tuned to each application.

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The ability to define storage partitions is useful for quality of service and SLA management. Pricing ranges from $190,000 for 2TB to $421,000 for 8TB.

Sun is expected to announce version two of the 6920 in May, which will feature synchronous and asynchronous long-distance data replication, and more refined snapshot management capabilities. Support for consistency groups is also expected, which is important for database applications.

The 6920 supports a scale-out architecture, so controllers and capacity can be added while maintaining a single image of the storage system. "This simplifies the administration of the product, unlike other products that force users to add additional complete systems that must be managed separately," says Randy Kerns, senior partner at the Evaluator Group, Greenwood Village, CO.

The 6920 currently supports only 1,024 LUNs, but is expected to jump to 16,000 in May. It also lacks a clone copy option for point-in-time copies, which lets database users run analyses against a cloned copy while production data stays online.

Xiotech uses a distributed clustering technique to ensure availability and allow easy scaling to improve performance or add capacity.
Xiotech Magnitude 3D
Clustering is a storage technique designed to offer more flexibility, scalability and security. The distributed clustering architecture of Xiotech Corp.'s Magnitude 3D system can grow non-disruptively to meet increasing requirements.

In Xiotech's design, the N-way Dimensional Storage Cluster architecture, storage controllers are loosely coupled to each other to provide failover and data migration services. Each controller node attaches to all installed drive bays over dual Fibre Channel (FC) connections and also manages its own storage functions.

The Magnitude 3D's drive bays can accommodate from two to 14 drives each (12 for SATA), and the drives can vary in capacity and performance. A range of FC disks up to 300GB are supported, as well as 400GB SATA disks. Xiotech offers two classes of FC drives--running at 10,000 rpm and 15,000 rpm, respectively, in addition to the SATA offerings.

However, says Rob Peglar, VP of technical solutions and chief technologist at Xiotech, there's no tiering of controller resources per se in the Magnitude 3D distributed cluster architecture. This is because any controller in the cluster can assume the duties of another at any time without application interruption or downtime. A virtual port may be assigned to a specific controller, which lets an admin control the tier of one server's I/O stream relative to another server's I/O stream.

There's also plenty of built-in redundancy protection. If one Magnitude 3D controller should fail or need to be taken offline for maintenance, the remaining active controllers can assume the operations of the inactive unit.

A wide variety of server operating systems are supported, including Windows, Linux, Novell NetWare and a number of Unix variations, including HP-UX, IBM AIX, Sun Solaris and SGI IRIX. Xiotech also offers the Magnitude 3D RAC Pack, a version that's specifically configured to integrate with Oracle's RAC. Xiotech recently announced a NAS version of the Magnitude 3D based on Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003.

The Magnitude 3D is managed by Xiotech's Intelligent Control (ICON) application, a browser-based program that runs out-of-band on an Ethernet-based management path. A single installation of ICON can manage up to six clusters.

In its current incarnation, Magnitude 3D is limited to four controllers, but the plan is to ultimately support 16. In its evaluation of the product, the Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA, notes that "as Magnitude 3D supports more nodes it will become extremely scalable."

Last month, Xiotech unveiled an entry-level model, the Magnitude 3D 1000e. Intended for small enterprises and first-time SAN implementers, the 1000e is a dual-controller array with a starting price of less than $50,000.

About the author:

Jerome M. Wendt (jerome.wendt@worldnett.att.net) is a storage analyst specializing in the fields of open-systems storage and SANs. He has managed storage for small- and large-sized organizations in this capacity.
Alex Barrett, Rich Castagna, Jo Maitland and Alan Radding also contributed to this Special Report.

This was first published in March 2005

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