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Veritas plods on with network virtualization

Jo Maitland

Apparently, Veritas Software Corp. does have a roadmap for its network-based virtualization software, but the details are sketchy and a lack of user interest has seen this product relegated to the back burner.

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Veritas Storage Foundation for Networks (VSFN) was announced in November 2003, and Version 1.1 has been shipping since June 2004. But Veritas concedes that it will not make a "mass market" push on this product until 2006.

"There hasn't been a huge amount of customers flocking to this … we wanted to get in on the ground early as we thought it might change the landscape in the future," said Matt Fairbanks, director of product management , storage and server group, Veritas.

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VSFN uses code from Veritas 3.5 host volume manager to create a storage resource management tool that resides in a Fibre Channel switch. Currently, the product is offered as embedded software on the Cisco Systems MDS switches and is slated to be available on Brocade switches sometime in 2005.

Fabric-based virtualization offers a couple of major advantages to users. It gets rid of the need for proprietary volume management, replication and snapshots at the array level by making these services available from the network across heterogeneous storage systems. It also frees application servers from these data intensive operations and puts LUN configuration in the hands of storage administrators instead of their vendors.

Despite its benefits, adoption has been slow and Veritas has struggled to sell the concept. At its Vision conference in April the company will talk about two VSFN customers, Electronic Data Systems Corp. and another yet to be announced. Analysts agree that it's not much to show for several years work.

Technical trouble

"They got to the party too early and ran out of steam," said Alex Gorbansky, senior analyst with the Taneja Group. "Technical troubles porting its volume manager to Cisco's switches delayed the product for months."

Veritas' Fairbanks admits that porting the code to Cisco's switch was more complicated than porting to a different server operating system. "It's a little more difficult from an engineering standpoint as there are different interfaces to manage… On the server you have a kernel and a TCP/IP stack for replication; an application running on the host; and clustering to integrate with. There aren't these same components on a switch and where there are gaps and holes we had to start to fill these in."

Fairbanks claims Veritas overcame these initial hurdles and is working on adding more robust features to the product including synchronous and asynchronous replication for disaster recovery purposes. Longer term, the company plans to integrate VSFN with CommandCentral Services so that users can manage host-based and network-based volume management from a single view. Fairbanks called this SAN VM.

Gorbansky was skeptical of this road map. "Integration is a sign that they were not successful in their earlier model and that this is not going to be a major area of innovation and development for them in the future," he said.

Why is Veritas backing away now?

According to most industry watchers, virtualization in the network is just starting to take off, with the pivotal event being EMC's launch of its Storage Router midyear. "You would think, with a couple of years' head start, that Veritas would be blowing its trumpet right now, but it has a lot going on with the Symantec merger," said Dan Renouard, analyst with R.W. Baird and Company.

Renouard said he thinks the market for network-based virtualization is still a couple years away before there will be significant deployments, which could buy Veritas some time to get its act together.

A key starting point would be to fix its go-to-market strategy, Renouard said. "The problem with putting its software on Cisco, or Brocade or whichever switch vendor, is that it ultimately has to get sold via the storage OEMs, including EMC and Hitachi who are not going to push Veritas' products over there own," he said.

EDS did not return calls for comment on this story.

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