McData Adds Intelligence to SAN Fabric

McData has announced a series of Application Services Modules (ASM) aimed at adding more intelligence to switches. They cover virtualization, backup, security and more.

So is this just more vendor over-exuberance? Or is switch intelligence finally about to materialize? Certainly, the early implementations of intelligence fell short, creating performance bottlenecks and posing difficulties in scaling up. Further, much of the so-called intelligence really turned out to just be a way to communicate faster or more efficiently — fine in itself, but still a step removed from the real deal. The current wave, however, which is focused on higher-end directors, could actually deliver.

“Application intelligence is integrated into our i10k director with the McDATA ASM,” says Tom Clark, director of solutions and technologies at McDATA. “From a management standpoint, services such as storage virtualization appear to be an integral part of the i10k.”

He explains that the ASM is not a blade but a separate module that is port-attached to the director. The advantage compared to blades is that the ASM does not occupy expensive director real estate, does not impose additional power/heat dissipation requirements on the director chassis, and does not pose potential microcode conflict issues. Available modules support virtualization of continuous data protection (CDP), virtual tape library (VTL), replication and data mobility.

“We are using the modular approach to advanced application intelligence so we can provide our customers with a non-disruptive means to add advanced functionality without having to forklift their existing SAN infrastructure,” says Clark.

The McDATA ASM is a 24-port, 1U module that attaches to any port of a McDATA director or switch. It is compatible with both the i10k and previous 6000 series directors. In later releases, it may well be interoperable with other vendors as well. The ASM module supports up to 1 million IOs per second.

Intelligence in Action

How does this play out in the real world? The introduction of multiple zones of virtualized storage lets users align the SAN according to business requirements without having to tack on a lot more hardware and software. It has the potential to add an encryption layer without the need to absorb I/O, add more software or plug in appliances.

According to Chris Christian, senior design lead SAN architect at Norfolk Southern, a freight railway company operating in the Eastern U.S., the dream of true SAN virtualization and intelligence remains in the future. Norfolk Southern just added an i10K into an environment that built around two data centers that have more than 500 UNIX servers and 600 Windows-based servers. The SAN also has four McData 6140 directors, some McData 3232 switches, an HDS 9980 array, an EMC Clariion CX700 and an EMC Centera box.

Christian says he’s buying the i10k to get more IO, not for replication, backup, or anything else. Reason: he feels the software has a little ways to go before it is ready for prime time. That gap will be filled relatively soon, however. McData is currently partnering with EMC and about 10 other vendors to provide the virtualization software necessary to enact true switch intelligence. This will come via a heterogeneous virtualization layer that has long been the missing link in intelligent switching. Within a few months, ASMs attached to an i10k will be able to take advantage of this virtualization layer to perform a wide variety of services.

In Norfolk Southern’s case, this could soon mean greater simplification. Take the case of multipathing software. Currently, the railway would need one type of proprietary multipathing software for HDS and another for EMC. Once the vendor intelligence project is completed, says Christian, it will take only one brand of multipathing software to function across multi-vendor arrays.

“Next-generation capabilities will probably include data content management, policy-based data storage management, information lifecycle management, dynamic partitioning, modular integration of virtualization and other functionality to better service upper layer business applications,” says Clark. “The introduction of these high-level application services is the next major wave for SAN technology development, and will enable even higher ROIs and reduction of management overhead.”

No Longer a Pipe Dream

Intelligent switches are no longer the pipe dream of a few years ago. The immediate horizon is filled with promise. But the technology is far from mature and it may be a while still before high-level intelligence is available at the heart of the SAN.

“I don’t see any real intelligence yet,” says Christian. “Advanced intelligence features probably won’t arrive till at least the summer and maybe even later.”

Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.
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