HP plans SAN-level storage virtualization

In one of the first attempts by a top IT vendor to support network-based storage virtualization, Hewlett-Packard Co. this week announced plans to use new software to let IT administrators manage all of the disk space on storage-area networks (SAN) as a single entity.

HP said that it plans later this year to make its VersaStor storage virtualization software available on a new class of SAN switches that San Jose-based Brocade Communications Systems Inc. will acquire through its proposed buyout of Rhapsody Networks Inc. in Fremont, Calif. VersaStor will also be integrated into HP’s OpenView Continuous Access Storage Appliance (CASA), a bundled set of hardware and software that handles data migration and replication.

VersaStor will extend the reach of CASA to the network level, where the appliance will work with Brocade’s switches to coordinate SAN operations and to make the various arrays and server-level storage devices attached to a network look like one big pool of storage space, HP said.

Virtualization has become the cornerstone of efforts to develop more automated storage infrastructures. Currently, most vendors support server- or array-based virtualization, where the software is installed on a single device. Network-based virtualization promises to allow disk storage devices across an entire SAN to be centrally managed and provisioned.

For Rick Allen, director of IT operations at Gwinnett Health System in Lawrenceville, Ga., network virtualization offers the potential to simultaneously send real-time copies of data from different disk arrays to an off-site data center. That capability “makes the whole disaster recovery scenario a lot easier,” said Allen, whose organization owns HP servers and storage devices plus equipment from IBM Corp. and Dell Computer Corp.

The network approach would also provide users with a single point of management for SAN-based storage, Allen added. “You’re not having to virtualize at the machine level,” he said.

The combined HP/Brocade product offering is the first incarnation of network-based virtualization from a major IT vendor, said Randy Kerns, an analyst at Evaluator Group Inc., a market research firm in Englewood, Colo. “Before, it was all small, independent companies with their own solutions,” Kerns said.

However, a spokeswoman for Sun Microsystems Inc. said the company plans to ship virtualization software as part of its N1 resource-management technology initiative next quarter – ahead of HP’s plan to release its technology during the second half of the year.

Sun’s offering will include software that it bought as part of its acquisition of Acton, Mass.-based Pirus Networks Inc. in November, the spokeswoman said. The Pirus technology lets IT managers pool storage from a variety of servers, including ones running Sun’s Solaris operating system, other Unix releases, Linux and Windows.

VersaStor has been in beta testing for two and a half years and came to HP through its acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. Testing of the software with CASA and Brocade’s switches is expected to start in the summer, HP said.

Brocade has yet to complete its buyout of Rhapsody, which was agreed to in November. But the two companies said the deal could be finalized by the end of this month.