Despite a general slowdown in technology spending, the Canadian storage market remains strong, with a projected average annual growth rate of more than 40 per cent in terabytes sold through 2007, said Alan Freedman, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto.

Freedman, speaking at an IBM Canada press briefing held last month in Toronto, noted that despite the strong storage market, users do face some challenges, such as interoperability between different vendors’ offerings and maximizing the utilization of their existing storage resources.

Storage vendors are trying to solve these problems by working together on interoperability issues and by “virtualizing” the storage environment.

Virtualizing storage allows users to manage their separate storage devices as if the devices were all one large storage unit. Vendors like IBM are creating virtual storage environments by adding intelligence into the storage area networks that lie between companies’ servers and their dedicated storage devices, such as disk and tape arrays.

In existing SAN environments, servers have no knowledge of other servers and storage resources have no knowledge of other storage resources, said Brian Truskowski, general manager of IBM storage software. This leads to inefficient use of storage assets, as some disk or tape arrays can have very high utilization, while others have almost none.

“What we’re doing is creating this virtual layer between the physical assets that amplifies the storage environment,” he said.

The heart of IBM’s storage virtualization strategy is the IBM SAN Volume Controller, an appliance that attaches to a Fibre Channel switch. The SVC takes the file systems of individual servers and pools them together into one common SAN file system, allowing storage to be used more efficiently.

The SVC also allows storage managers to set policy-based rules for automated allocation into storage pools and lets managers transparently add or remove storage, or resize their SAN file systems without taking the SAN offline.

The SVC works with AIX, Windows 2000, Linux, Solaris and HP-UX hosts. On the storage side, the device currently works with IBM’s own FAStT and ESS systems, but IBM plans to add support for other vendors storage systems later this year.

SAN switches supported by the SVC include offerings from Brocade, McData and InRange.

IBM is working with other switch vendors, including Cisco, to come up with a blade version of the SVC that can be installed in newer storage switches, Truskowski said.

Pricing for the SVC, which is available now, starts at $90,000.

IBM is also selling a SAN package, based around the SVC, for users wishing to install completely new SANs. Dubbed the IBM TotalStorage SAN Integration Server, the package includes SVCs, a master console for management, two SAN Fibre Channel switches and Ethernet switch and storage. A base package lists at $210,000.