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The great divide: mainframe and open-systems storage

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Good mix for backup
In addition to taking advantage of limited cross-environment SRM functionality, storage managers are also increasingly able to integrate mainframe and open-systems backup. Using mainframe tape controller emulation appliances like those from Bus-Tech and Neartek Inc., storage managers can attach open-systems backup devices to mainframes, share them with open systems and even do some common media management using a single set of tools.

And IBM has begun to extend mainframe-based backup and disaster recovery applications to open and non-IBM platforms. It recently announced that its FlashCopy feature for automatically copying logical volumes and its Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy (PPRC) synchronous mirroring feature would be available on mainframe platforms running the Linux operating system. And EMC has licensed from IBM interfaces that would allow its Symmetrix DMX storage arrays to work with IBM's PPRC, FlashCopy and other backup and disaster recovery products.

There are also signs of tighter integration of mainframe and open-systems storage at the SAN fabric level. Early in 2003, switch vendors such as McData Corp. started offering so-called intermix features that allow a single director to support open-systems Fibre Channel (FC) and mainframe FICON traffic.

While

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vendors acknowledge that early implementations of intermix switches lacked stability and management features, recent refinements make it easier for storage managers to isolate FC and FICON traffic running through the same switch, yet manage both streams from a single interface. For example, in November 2003, Cisco Systems Inc. announced an upgrade to its SAN OS 1.3 software that allows its MDS 9000 switches to not only support both FC and FICON traffic, but also create and manage virtual SANs. Using Cisco's management software, storage managers could then assign higher priority--and more SAN bandwidth--to given data sets, from either the mainframe or open-systems side.

"You're beginning to see a few ways in which open-systems and mainframe storage management are being brought together, mainly for things like backup and very limited SRM," says John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group, which is based in Nashua, NH.

Maybe opposites don't attract
Still, vendors are a long way from providing common tools that would allow managers to not only monitor but also control mainframe and open-systems storage, automatically provisioning storage across both environments or migrating data sets from the two sides between common classes of storage. There, vendors face a fundamental roadblock.

Storage managers working in the two environments today tend to approach core storage management processes differently. Take storage provisioning, for example. Working in a highly homogeneous environment, mainframers tend to allocate data from large, centralized pools which are defined as part of the provisioning process. Open-systems storage administrators, on the other hand, usually allocate storage on a per-server basis as demand dictates because they're often dealing with many servers running different operating systems.

"The two worlds in some respects are fundamentally different," says LeRoy Budnik, managing partner at Invenetis in Chicago. "And because of that, there are also big cultural differences. The open world is far less disciplined, while the mainframe guys have a hard time dealing with rapid change. So, there are barriers to combining the two sides from an organizational point of view. Combine that with all the technology differences, and I'm not sure you'll ever see integrated open-systems and mainframe storage management."

That's neither surprising nor particularly disappointing to Steve Hightower, director of strategy and enterprise programs at defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin in Orlando, FL. Though Lockheed Martin has both a large mainframe environment and a rapidly growing open-systems environment, Hightower says he sees relatively little value in combining the currently separate storage management and administration organizations. Nor does he put a high priority on a common set of tools for managing storage in both environments.

"If we could have our vision realized, it would be to be able to manage it all through a single console," says Hightower. "But in reality, the two [mainframe and open systems] are very different technologies, and we're a long way from having the tools or processes in place to manage them together."

More important than unified storage management tools and organizations, Hightower says, are standards that would permit a single management platform and better training and standard management processes on the open side. While storage management processes and roles are well-established at Lockheed Martin, until recently the company did not train or use storage management specialists on the open side. "There was no distinction in the open world between storage and systems administrators," says Hightower.

Now Lockheed Martin is not only defining open-systems storage management roles, but also putting in place standard storage management processes in the open-systems world, many borrowed from the mainframe storage management playbook.

"Right now, the biggest bang for our buck will come from getting our arms around the open-systems side and making sure we get the technologies in place as well as the processes to drive repeatable solutions," says Hightower. He adds: "Merging open-systems with mainframe storage management is much lower on the priority list."

This was first published in February 2004

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