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XIOtech tackles high availability with clustered SAN architecture

Kevin Komiega

XIOtech Corp. has one thing on its mind: Uptime. The Eden Prairie, Minn., company's "dimensional" storage clustering architecture, announced this week, doesn't leave a footprint on hosts, and puts high availability directly in the hands of storage controllers.

The new SAN design, dubbed Magnitude 3D, delivers multiple layers of resilience, in contrast to traditional architectures that focus on eliminating a single point of failure, the company said.

"The architecture for this box is very unique," said Steve Kenniston, a technology analyst for the Enterprise Storage group Inc., Milford, Mass.

He said the traditional approach to high availability architectures is for hosts to manage failover from failed controllers to working controllers, meaning agent software is deployed on hosts. This can present a challenge for software vendors to make sure applications can execute with different versions of software.

"With XIOtech, this integration and testing is done at the controller level. Each controller talks to each other to ensure availability. When one fails the others take over the responsibility for serving its data to the proper hosts," Kenniston said.

XIOtech's clustered storage architecture replaces chassis-based SANs with distributed controllers and a virtual storage pool. Users can mix and match drive types, logical units of processing (LUNs), and heterogeneous servers in the pool. As storage requirements expand, capacity, control

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and performance can be scaled or added incrementally.

The clustered architecture features modular components, including controllers, drive bays, and control platforms, which are deployed as independent modules across distributed networks. Magnitude 3D also enables intra-controller and cross-cluster storage failover without requiring any host software and offers automated provisioning and application driven, on-the-fly event response.

The Magnitude 3D comes in a 2-node version initially, but will be able to scale to 16 nodes in 2004.

Kenniston said XIOtech has a technological edge in the SAN market. "No one else really does this."

3PARdata Inc., Fremont, Calif., does clustering as well, but its architecture utilizes a backplane. Network Appliance Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., has clustering technology for its NAS filers and FAS systems, but the intelligence is in the operating system as opposed to XIOtech's controller-level approach.

The basic premise of clustering is more function for less money. SANs as part of a cluster environment let storage scale and failover along with the cluster to maximize uptime. More for less is a maxim that small and medium sized business live by, and SMBs represent a niche market where XIOtech has scored most of its customer wins.

Jim Prystal, a systems engineer who handles day-to-day SAN operations for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, said print publications like his tend to use proprietary, "mom and pop" applications that are tailored to unique IT environments. His shop runs many unique file and print applications, some databases and "lots" of operating systems like Sun Solaris, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and NetWare 5.1.

"We brought in the 3D because we had been hearing about it for quite some time. We [like] the modular architecture because you can spread it around between different racks and different rooms," he said.

Prystal said initial failover tests have gone off without a hitch. "It just works."

The Star Tribune is evaluating the Magnitude 3D and will probably migrate its higher performance applications and Sybase databases to the Magnitude 3D to make use of its speedy Fibre Channel drive technology. Prystal is testing the Magnitude 3D and looking at acquiring the system for the performance benefits.

Rebel Brown, executive vice president of marketing, said XIOtech will initially sell Magnitude 3D to its existing users. "The way we're pricing the product is based on how many nodes are in the cluster." An example, she said, is a 2 TB switched cluster would cost approximately $140,000.

XIOtech is a vendor whose products have seen the most traffic in the mid-tier, with particular success in verticals such as health care. SAN clustering could represent the company's move towards wrangling users with bigger IT budgets.

"Expanding out of its current niche and not competing in the high-end space, keeping its storage offerings ahead of the curve on functionality and price, and working towards enabling the utility data center with improved application integration will likely give XIOtech a better chance of success," said Ron Lovell, storage practice director for Greenwich Technology Partners, a network infrastructure consulting and engineering company headquartered in New York. "In addition, their ever-expanding integration with key technology partners such as Oracle and Microsoft is a positive as well."

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail: Kevin Komiega, News Editor

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