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EMC unveils Invista

EMC will unveil its long-awaited storage router virtualization platform, Invista, in New Orleans, but users are unlikely to deploy it for virtualization.

EMC Corp. is expected to unveil its storage router virtualization product this week at the company's Technology Summit in New Orleans, but it's unlikely to be doing any virtualizing anytime soon.

The out-of-band appliance, dubbed Invista, which means "insight" in Italian, includes two components: a dual-node server cluster and a connected Fibre Channel (FC) switch. The server runs software from EMC that inspects every packet that travels from a host computer through the FC switch to the storage array. It grabs each packet, assigns it a unique identifier and classifies it so that it can be managed across a pool of heterogeneous storage resources.

Interestingly, vendors already selling virtualization technology say it's no longer about delivering a single pool of storage across heterogeneous storage, like it was a couple of years ago. These days, virtualization is all about delivering data services, such as replication, mirroring and data migration.

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At Storage Networking World last month, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and Sun Microsystems Inc. announced new copy and data movement services for their respective virtualization platforms. HDS announced HiCommand Tiered Storage Manager for the TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform, which allows users to do policy-based data movement between storage resources under TagmaStore's control. Sun, meanwhile, announced an enhanced version of its 6920 platform, which in addition to support for EMC, Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM arrays, can also be outfitted with the StorEdge Pool Manager, Data Replicator, Data Mirror and Data Snapshot services.

And last to the table, EMC also said its storage router will be enlisted in the service of data services -- data migration, to be specific.

The funny thing about these virtualization platforms is that more often than not, customers don't actually use their virtualization capabilities, said Hu Yoshida, HDS' chief technology officer. "We can either remap the data through the [TagmaStore] controller, or we can do a 1:1 mapping," whereby the virtualization controller leaves the LUN's original data descriptors in place. "Most people have gone with the 1:1 mapping." HDS sometimes refers to this capability as "native mode." IBM SAN Volume Controller customers know it as "image mode."

Even when the data isn't virtualized per se, Yoshida said, "we're still able to apply all our functionality," such as replication and data movement. Data movement, in particular, happens for three basic reasons, he says: information lifecycle management, performance and "technology refresh."

Heterogeneous storage pooling, meanwhile, is still quite rare, said John McArthur, an IDC storage analyst. There are cases of it, but for now, "it's really more a data migration play."

Besides data mobility, the first version of Invista is expected to offer local replication, broad operating system and array support, and support for clustering. The second version, in 2006, will provide support for over subscribed volumes, also known as thin provisioning, remote replication, an SMI-S interface, deeper integration with EMC ControlCenter management software and remote clustering. And the third iteration of the product, in 2007, will offer fine-grained provisioning, performance monitoring, quality of service management, SAN resource optimization and security features.

EMC will complete Invista beta testing this quarter, with general availability in the third quarter of 2005 for EMC Connectrix branded switches from Brocade and Cisco. Support for McData is expected in early 2006. List price for an Invista configuration capable of virtualizing 64 terabytes of storage, including all Invista hardware and software, is $225,000.

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