IBM moves to open up mainframes to SANs

IBM Corp. today announced a series of new storage products aimed at large corporate users, including a Fibre Channel link that's supposed to let users directly connect their mainframes to the same storage-area networks (SAN) used by Unix and Windows servers.

The Fibre Channel connection will tie mainframes to IBM's TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server, known more informally as Shark. The company said the Fibre Channel support will increase peak I/O rates between big iron boxes and the high-end disk array by almost six times compared to the proprietary ESCON architecture that it and other mainframe vendors use now.

IBM also introduced a serial disk controller designed to provide Fibre Channel storage connectivity for its own Unix servers and rival ones made by Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., plus systems running Windows NT and Windows 2000. In addition, it detailed two upgraded models of a TotalStorage tape server that supports multiple hardware platforms.

The mainframe Fibre Channel link to the Shark array is due to become available in late September. David Hill, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said the Fibre Channel support should be an important advancement for mainframe users because it will extend their ability to knit the systems into open SAN fabrics alongside Unix and Windows boxes.

The new technology also could be a welcome relief to IT managers whose SANs are maxing out on storage capacity, said Mike Kahn, an analyst at The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The Fibre Channel connection should provide a relatively inexpensive way to expand the capacity of a SAN by tying in existing mainframes and Shark arrays, he said.

IBM said it will disclose pricing details on the Fibre Channel link closer to the scheduled shipment date. The plan to add support for Shark devices follows IBM's release late last year of native Fibre Channel connectivity for the control unit built into its Magstar 3590 tape subsystem. That product also previously worked only with the ESCON technology before getting Fibre Channel support.

The separate disk controller that will provide Fibre Channel links to Unix and Windows servers was developed by Fremont, California-based Vicom Inc. and is being resold by IBM under a deal that was also announced today. IBM plans to call that device the TotalStorage SAN Controller 160 and will release it in early September, at a starting price of $9,395.

IBM said the two new TotalStorage Virtual Tape Server models introduced today will be twice as fast as its current offering. The new products achieve high data transfer rates through the addition of copper chip technology and a streamlined data backup approach that makes initial uses of front-end disk drives, the company said.

The high-end B20 model provides from 800GB to 5.1TB of data storage capacity and has a list price of US$230,000, while the B10 starts at $80,000 and has a capacity range of 144GB to 800GB. By comparison, the existing B18 tape server stores up to 5.1TB and starts at $180,000. The B10 and B20 are scheduled to ship at the end of August, according to IBM.