Sidebar: HP's grid storage initiative leads the way

The biggest player in the grid storage arena seems to be Hewlett-Packard Co., the first major storage vendor to deliver a grid storage product. HP's StorageWorks Grid architecture stores information in numerous individual "smart cells" -- standardized, modular and intelligent devices. HP's smart cells will be smaller than the monolithic storage usually found in storage-area networks. They will be based almost entirely on low-cost, commodity hardware and provide a basic storage unit that customers can configure and change as needed to run many different tasks.

According to an HP technical white paper (download PDF), smart cells contain a CPU and, optionally, cache memory in addition to storage devices (disk, optical or tape drives). The cells are interconnected to form a powerful, flexible, peer-to-peer storage network. All smart cells have a set of common software installed in them, but each can be given a specific function (or personality) by loading appropriate operational software for tasks such as capacity allocation, policy and reporting, block or file serving, archiving and retrieval, or auditing and antivirus services. Administrators can change the functions of specific smart cells to deliver different types of services as business needs change. And it's easy to expand the grid by simply adding modules, which are automatically detected and incorporated into an appropriate domain.

Smart cells are more capable than single-purpose disk arrays or tape libraries. Because the data path is completely virtualized, any smart cell can manage any I/O operation. Smart cell software maintains consistency between smart cells as well as ensures data redundancy and reliability. In the HP StorageWorks grid, all components are integrated to present a single system image for administration as a single entity. The system is designed from the ground up to be self-managing -- tasks traditionally associated with storage resource management are performed by the utility itself, with no human involvement. The only time an administrator needs to know anything about individual smart cells is when failed hardware must be repaired or replaced. Even then, the single-system-image software provides fault isolation and failure identification to simplify maintenance.

So far this year, HP has announced four StorageWorks Grid products:

  • Document Capture, Retention and Retrieval, using multifunction printers, scanners and digital senders to simplify the conversion of paper-based records to digital form.
  • Sharable File System, a self-contained file server that distributes files in parallel across clusters of industry-standard, Linux-based server and storage components.
  • Reference Information Storage System (RISS), an all-in-one archive and retrieval system for storing, indexing and rapidly retrieving e-mail and Microsoft Office documents, available in 1TB and 4TB configurations.
  • StorageWorks XP120000, a new enterprise-class disk array providing a two-tier storage architecture with single-system image management

Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. has deployed RISS in an effort to comply with regulations about e-mail archiving. The product also provides New York-based Nasdaq with a strategic foundation for managing its overall information life cycle.

"HP's StorageWorks Grid is a visionary architecture for an intelligent, scalable, reliable and agile storage platform," says Joseph Zhou, a senior analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y. Zhou notes that the grid leverages HP's storage and server technology expertise, as well as research done at HP Labs, to create a new storage environment that delivers long-promised capabilities in novel and very useful ways. An open question, Zhou says, is whether HP will eventually converge its development toward a single unified grid encompassing both servers and storage.

Other Players

In July, Oracle Corp. announced partnerships with several storage providers (including EMC Corp., HP and Hitachi Ltd.) to simplify storage management for customers and offer support for the new Oracle Database 10g. Oracle and its partners plan to enhance features to automate the storage administration and provisioning tasks, thereby freeing up database and storage administrators for more productive work.

In Europe, New York-based Exanet Inc. has launched its ExaStore Grid Storage 2.0 software-based product built around grid computing. It clusters all storage system resources, including RAID arrays, servers and controllers and cache memory, into a single unified network-attached storage resource with a single namespace operating in a heterogeneous environment using several storage protocols. The Exanet product is aimed at applications for digital media and premedia, media streaming, oil and gas, digital video animation, medical imaging and others with performance, high-volume and high-availability requirements.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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