Startup Incipient has launched storage area network (SAN) virtualisation software running on Cisco MDS9000 director switches.

Incipient's Network Storage Platform (iNSP) runs on a Storage Services Module blade that slots into the MDS 9000, providing an embedded virtualisation device. It provides separate I/O paths for data and control signals enabling higher performance and lower storage management costs. To scale performance more iNSP-loaded blades could be used.

Currently MDS9000 users could use IBM's San Volume Controller (SVC), a separate appliance which links to the director. It combines data and control signals in one I/O path, known as in-band, and could choke the SAN traffic. In practice it has not and there are over 2000 customers using it.

There has been speculation that it could migrate to the switch and even that IBM might use Incipent's technology to do so. Embedded virtualisation in the switch reduces the number of boxes and network links a customer has to look after.

Like IBM, EMC and StoreAge offer appliances that attach to storage switches and provide virtualisation and other storage services. Maxxan offers something similar on its own Fibre Channel SAN switch.

The capabilities of iNSP include storage array provisioning and volume management, plus the ability to stripe, concatenate, partition and mirror data. It allows point-in-time copies to be made and has centralised management via a command line interface or a Storage Management Interface Specification (SMIS) API.

Incipient's product is for SANs with more than 50TB of data and provides online data migration between heterogeneous and tiered storage environments. Beta tester Jeff Boles, IT manager for the city of Mesa, Arizona, used it to migrate data between both EMC Symmetrix and HP's Enterprise Virtual Arrays - and saved money.

"Without iNSP, we would have used a much more expensive product from HP to move data and (would have had to use) some other approach for Symmetrix data." he said.

Incipient expects to make iNSP available in November, priced from $137,500 per blade. A two-node redundant and fault-tolerant configuration is recommended - meaning $275,000.