EMC has announced its long-anticipated storage virtualisation technology, which the company said will allow users to manage its own arrays - and high-end boxes from major competitors - through a single interface.

"This is finally EMC giving in to the fact that storage is going to become virtualised," said Nancy Hurley, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

EMC said Storage Router was a combination of "intelligent switches and directors" from Cicso, Brocade and McData, and EMC's own firmware. The switch manufacturers gave EMC proprietary APIs to which it could write its firmware.

The switches are among a relatively new breed of storage technology that uses application-specific integrated circuits to crack open data packets, read the information inside and route the data.

Robert Sadowski, a product marketing manager at EMC, said yesterday that the company will eventually write its code to a standard API called Fabric Application Interface that is now being developed by the International Committee for Information Technology Standards. "It's just the right thing to do for the customer," he said.

EMC first tipped its hand about plans for Storage Router at its annual users conference last April, saying it would release a beta version to users the following quarter. Yesterday, EMC said the router is in beta now but won't be available until the first half of 2005.

When it does become available, EMC said, the Storage Router will be able to perform network-based volume control, data migration and point-in-time copies between arrays.

The firmware runs on Brocade's AP7420 switch, all of Cisco's MDS line and all intelligent switches and directors from McData. It will also work with EMC's own Symmetrix and Clarriion products as well as Hitachi's 9900 series, HP's EVA line and IBM's Shark.

Hurley said EMC chose to introduce virtualisation because it's in the network. "Users told us they wanted vendors to put certain features on a switch. Anything to do with data management is one of them." Storage Router is able to perform port level processing at a rate of 30,000 to 40,000 I/O per second and is highly scalable by adding more processing blades to the switches.

"It's a much more elegant model for virtualisation because it fits into an existing storage network," Sadowski said.