Options for Mac Storage Widen

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With its Xsan and Xserve RAID, Apple recently expanded its push into the storage industry. But it’s not alone. Applied Micro Circuits Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., developed its Serial ATA RAID with a 2 TB capacity along with technology expected to deliver enhanced speed and scalability in a fledgling new market sector for the G5.

AMCC develops products for networks, embedded PowerPC processing, optical transport and storage. Applications include converged IP-based networks, high-definition video and high-quality voice for carrier, metropolitan, access and the enterprise.

“Looking at the vertical applications which have led to the wider adoption of SATA, it is easy to connect the high bandwidth requirements of digital content with Apple’s Mac platform,” says Mike Joyce, AMCC’s senior director of storage marketing.

Storing Apples

As an enterprise-class storage area network (SAN) alternative, Apple Xsan lets multiple computers simultaneously access terabytes or petabytes of storage on an Xserve RAID box over high-speed Fibre Channel (FC). Xsan uses the 64-bit file system in Mac OS X v10.4 “Tiger” and lets users share files and volumes up to 2 PB in size.

Over the past two years, Xsan and Xserve RAID have established a viable niche for Apple-based storage. And it appears the market is widening. But by how much?

Until now, the industry largely ignored storage requirements for high bandwidth applications (video and audio, capture, edit, post production and delivery) when placed in concert with the Mac platform. Options are still few but at least now they are growing.

For example, at the high end of the Mac market, the Fibre Channel-based XServe RAID subsystem offers data protection with a capacity up to 7 TB. While at the low end, detachable hard drives are readily available for direct connection to the workstation using 400 Mbps Firewire. Both setups, however, are relatively slow and require manual intervention. At best, Joyce considers them “glorified sneakernet solutions.”

AMCC hopes to bring its expertise to solve this storage situation. And the company is no Johnny-come-lately in the RAID controller sector, with many years of experience in developing RAID controller systems for Linux and Windows environments. So why did it decide to start catering to Macs?

“AMCC decided to go after the Mac market because it lacked a serious RAID solution for the G5, especially for customers using high bandwidth applications such as digital/video and audio editing,” says Joyce. “These applications are optimized by AMCC’s 3ware controller line to provide easy to use, high performance data protection with up to 2 TB of additional capacity.”

The company’s Sidecar external RAID solution leverages a 3ware StorSwitch architecture. StorSwitch is a non-blocking switch fabric storage architecture that allows 3ware SATA RAID controllers to concurrently communicate with all SATA drives. This process integrates custom-designed firmware, hardware and management software that is optimized for high bandwidth applications. It also solves how to provide terabytes of reliable storage expansion to every G5 workstation.

Sidecar consists of a host-based RAID controller, a cable connecting to the back of the PowerMac G5, and a small storage enclosure capable of holding up to four 500GB SATA II drives which expands the storage capacity of the Apple Power Mac G5. It includes a high performance 4-port PCI Express to SATA II RAID controller, a 4-bay desktop enclosure and a multi-lane, high bandwidth SATA cable. It implements elements of the current SATA Specification Release 2.5.

What does this mean for Apple end users? With 500 GB SATA II hard drives available from Hitachi and Seagate, for example, Sidecar allows a G5 user to add 2 TB of RAID-protected storage to the workstation.

An Apple Storage World?

Is Apple storage going to take over the world of storage? Not any time soon at least. But with Apple itself making steady upgrades to Xserve RAID and Xsan, and with companies like AMCC making continued efforts to service the Mac platform, the rate of adoption of Apple platform storage is bound to pick up.

“AMCC’s entry into the Macintosh storage is good news for Mac users who require enterprise-like functionality with greater storage performance and capacity for applications such as digital video capture, post-production and graphics,” says Greg Schulz, founder and storage consultant at StorageIO in Stillwater, MN.

Schulz says AMCC is trying to fill the gap between previous Mac storage options: Fibre Channel, which can be three to five times more expensive than SATA II while offering the same amount of storage; and Firewire that runs at 400 Mbps and may cause performance issues and capacity limitations.

This article appeared originally on Enterprise IT Planet.

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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