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StorageTek eyes mainframe users

StorageTek is in discussions with Luminex Software to build a gateway between its FlexLine disk arrays and mainframe servers.

Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) is close to signing up Luminex Software Inc. to its technology alliance partner program with a view to supporting mainframe users on its FlexLine family of disk arrays.

Today, the mainframe market is a closely guarded fortress surrounded by IBM, EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS). These companies sell expensive, high-end storage systems with built-in support for mainframe connectivity. Outside of this tight circle, there is little to no options for users looking to connect mainframe servers to open systems disk.

StorageTek is expected to break this barrier using a control unit bridge from Luminex that will connect its FlexLine disk systems to mainframes. A spokesperson for StorageTek confirmed that the company is in "informal discussions" with Luminex but added that "nothing is set in stone yet." Todd Reif, senior director of global professional services at StorageTek, wasn't aware of a deal with Luminex but admitted that the company has "seen a customer need for a mainframe to open systems gateway."

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Michael Saunders, president of Luminex, agreed that the demand is there but that the lag time for support of new innovations on the mainframe has traditionally been very slow. "It'll be years before ATA devices are available for mainframe servers, for example, but now that lag time is almost nil," he said.

Luminex's product includes three components: a standard server running Windows; an HBA with an ESCON channel adaptor that allows Windows to plug into IBM's mainframe channel and software that enables DASD emulation.

Interestingly, StorageTek had its own product that performed DASD emulation once upon a time, but with its focus on tape and a lack of investment in this area, it became obsolete.

The issue with DASD emulation, according to Marc Staimer, founder of Dragon Slayer Consulting, has always been to perform it fast enough. "Keeping up with the IOPS and being consistent and reliable is tough … It's really easy to mess up in the mainframe world," he said. Several years ago, Sun Microsystems Inc. offered a DASD product but it never worked, according to Staimer.

He added that StorageTek is a strong player in the mainframe tape market but has nothing to support mainframe users on the disk side. "They want a product to compete with the IBM's DS8000, EMC's DMX and Hitachi's TagmaStore," he said.

Luminex claims it is lining up deals with other RAID suppliers, Nexsan Technologies Inc. being one, to offer their disk products into the mainframe marketplace. In addition, it said its products are significantly cheaper than the incumbents. Its offering starts at $50,000, compared with the incumbents that charge closer to $100,000 for FICON connectivity.

It appears that this cozy niche tied up by IBM, EMC and HDS could soon be cracked open.

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