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Storage Grids Move Closer To Reality

Vendors introduce technologies, forge partnerships, and embrace open standards

Storage grids--futuristic architectures that emphasize simplicity and data availability using a combination of management software and hardware--hold promise for companies grappling with complex IT systems. Several developments last week signal that storage grids are moving closer to reality.

The storage-grid vision includes a network of simple commodity hardware components, the ability to share work across a scalable network, and automated storage-management software. The management software would handle provisioning of capacity throughout the network, back up and retrieve data on command, and manage virtualization that separates hardware from user access to the data. "With a storage grid, users would never need to know where a file is," says Anne McFarland, an analyst at the Clipper Group. "They'll just need the name."

An early version of a storage grid already is available from a small company called LeftHand Networks Inc. Last week, Open Storage Solutions Inc. struck a partnership with LeftHand to use the company's SAN/iQ storage grid software in Open Storage's Infinity X-File IP SAN. LeftHand, which continues to sell its own appliances based on SAN/iQ, is working on similar partnerships with other vendors.

"It's absolutely a minigrid already," says LeftHand customer Ron Godine, IT manager of operations at Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co., maker of the Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. "We're running three or more systems with low-cost components easily duplicated, so we achieve data delivery and redundant disks, and we could even lose a storage array and keep operating."

Network Appliance Inc. last week released the G7 version of its Data OnTap operating system, which its storage-appliance customers can use to manage information across all forms of storage, including the Fibre Channel-based SANs of Network Appliance competitors. Another new Network Appliance product, called FlexVol, provisions storage and could help customers quickly retrieve unused capacity after they deploy it.

Meanwhile, IBM says it will embrace open-source standards for grid computing and apply them to its storage products over the next several years.

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