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SGI Rolls Out Shared Storage for Windows, Linux, and Unix.

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

If you are going to sell servers, it is probably a good idea to sell storage that goes along with it. In many cases, the amount of storage that companies buy can meet or exceed the amount of data processing capacity they acquire. And if you don't sell good storage that is kept up to date with all the latest disk drive, controller, and management software technologies, other storage vendors (who might also try to sell servers against you) might decide to raid your customer base. This is why SGI Inc continues to improve the storage subsystems it makes even though it generally viewed as a parallel supercomputer maker for niche server markets where it has expertise, such as digital media and visualization.

SGI is rolling out the third generation of its InfiniteStorage disk arrays this week, and it thinks that these new storage arrays, when coupled with SAN switching technology and its CXFS clustered file system, solve one of the peskiest problems in the storage market - actually allowing different and incompatible servers to access a shared set of data files. This is exactly what IBM Corp is trying to do with its StorageTank product, which is not yet fully on the market. And while the new SGI products are going to be interesting for SGI's core supercomputing customers, the arrays can apply just as well to commercial settings.

People think storage area networks allow them to do this, but a SAN does not. What a SAN does, says Ajay Anand, director of storage marketing at SGI, is provide a switched network that allows multiple servers to access a giant storage array using a high-speed Fibre Channel mesh. This is great, because it has lots of bandwidth. The only problem is that each server on the SAN has to have its own slice of the SAN to play with. It isn't really shared storage so much as partitioned storage on a shared network. While network-attached storage allows multiple servers to share data, NAS arrays generally only scale to 1TB or 2TB and they don't have high-speed Fibre Channel links back to servers. Out in the real world, says Anand, companies are creating storage islands by installing multiple NAS boxes for each workload; in some cases, users accessing the exact same data sets have their own NAS devices, which seems to defeat the purpose of having a NAS to share data. Companies are nonetheless stuck managing NAS islands. And those with SANs have to manage storage islands inside the SAN. Companies with both NAS and SAN are managing lots of islands. This is annoying and expensive.

The way out of this dilemma, according to SGI, is to create a hybrid NAS-SAN architecture that uses a clustered file system such as CXFS that allows SAN connectivity as well as actual NAS-style file sharing, but across a much larger storage array and across a broad number of different platforms. To that end, this week, SGI will be rolling out the third generation of its CXFS shared file system, which now supports IBM Corp's AIX platform as well as both 32-bit Linux and 64-bit Linux platforms. The prior generation of CXFS supported SGI's own Irix Unix platform as well as Sun Microsystems Inc's Solaris and Microsoft Corp's Windows NT and Windows 2000 environments.

This week's storage announcements from SGI are about more than a new version of CXFS. SGI is delivering three new storage arrays, which it OEMs from LSI Logic Inc (as do a number of large server and storage vendors, including rival IBM). The hybrid NAS-SAN platform that is being called the InfiniteStorage system by SGI includes Fibre Channel connectivity between servers and a 2 Gbps Fibre Channel switch, which then feeds back into these new arrays. This provides the high-speed linking between servers and storage. The CXFS file system runs on these arrays and has drivers for each of the server environments. (HP-UX and Windows 2003 are missing from its support, but SGI is undoubtedly working on CXFS support for these platforms even if Anand would not commit to any specific delivery date or to whether SGI was working on support for these platforms or not. He did say that SGI was working on support for Mac OS X and Windows XP Pro to allow these platforms to participate in shared files on CXFS-based arrays.)

Providing fast access to a shared set of data is easy. Keeping two or more applications from messing with it at the same time is hard. That's why the InfiniteStorage system includes a metadata server that is linked to all the servers and the Fibre Channel switch using normal LAN connections. This is what allows CXFS to keep track of what server is using and altering what data set on the arrays, and keep all servers out of contention as they share the data. Users don't have to copy data from a SAN to a NAS and then run their workloads. They just use the data, right there on the InfiniteStorage box.

By the way, CXFS is not new. It has been around for four years, and some of the biggest digital media and supercomputer centers in the world (about 350 organizations) are now using it. CXFS can support a single file size of up to 9 million TB (in theory) and a file system with up to 18 million TB. Those are very big numbers. (The million in there is not a typo).

There are three new arrays that sit behind the InfiniteStorage solution. The first is the SGI NAS 2000, which is based on the LSI TP9300 arrays. This is, as the name suggests, an entry point into the InfiniteStorage line for customers who need a single NAS array that scales beyond the 2TB limit of most NAS devices. The NAS 2000 scales from 1TB to 112TB, and including CXFS and other components, and entry array (presumably with 1TB of capacity) has a U.S. list price of $91,550. The TP9300 arrays cost $30,000 for a 1TB unit, and $345,000 for a 16TB unit.

Now, say you need to add faster Fibre Channel connectivity. You can upgrade the NAS 2000 to the SAN 2000, which includes the switch and metadata server. This solution is based on the LSI TP9300 arrays as well, which have the same prices when used in the NAS 2000 or the SAN 2000. But a base 1TB SAN 2000 costs $112,000, a $20,450 difference that reflects the cost of all that other gear.

If you need the highest performance and bandwidth that SGI and LSI can offer, then you upgrade to the TP9500 arrays, which have faster disks, controllers, and such. These arrays start at $120,000, and a 32TB array sells for $742,000. The InfiniteStorage SAN 3000 solution that is based on the TP9500 has an entry list price of $180,000 for a 1TB array, scaling up to $3.96m for a whopper 150TB unit.

In addition to announcing the new InfiniteStorage solutions this week, SGI will also announce that it is working with AppIQ, a storage management software maker based in Burlington, Massachusetts, to deliver software tools to make it easier for customers to manage InfiniteStorage solutions. AppIQ Solution Suite 2.0 was delivered in July, and it implements the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) standard that was created for heterogeneous storage networks. SMI-S is itself based on the Common Information Model (CIM) and Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) standards. The AppIQ Solution Suite is being extended to Irix right now, and will be bundled with InfiniteStorage products starting in the fourth quarter of 2003. Pricing for AppIQ's products for the SGI arrays was not available.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 9, 2003
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