IBM has finally announced the first product from its Storage Tank research project.

The TotalStorage SAN File System has been a long time coming and will be limited to IBM’s servers for the foreseeable future. But it looks promising and IBM is claiming it as a “breakthrough in computing” that will “transform the economics of SAN storage”.

The system allows up to 10 servers to be connected at distance through IP and function as if all are on a local network, ie you will be able to see and move files through a single interface. It works by attaching metadata to each file giving its precise location on a particular server. Big Blue claims the system will allow perabytes of data to be shifted easily, swiftly and simply, across an organisation - enough for even the biggest company.

This clearly has huge advantages. Much time and trouble will be saved backing up and shifting data and, thanks to load-balancing software, spare capacity in a network can be moved around, cutting down on hardware costs.

However, software will need to be installed on each server attached to the system. With prices starting at $90,000 for just two servers, it is going to be a tough economic argument for going with the TotalStorage system. For this reason, IBM is aiming at the financial services, retail and life sciences markets.

The system is rather limited in which servers and operating systems it can work with, at the moment. Basically, it's IBM gear (AIX, DB2) and certain Windows installations, although IBM is promising to correct this soon. By the middle of next year various versions of Unix and Linux should be released, although Big Blue remains tight-lipped over exactly which.

Dan Colby, general manager of IBM storage systems is nevertheless evangelistic in his praise for the new product: "IBM's SAN File System has the potential to become to an organisation's data what the Dewey Decimal System is to a library. It is a highly dynamic and autonomic product that reinvents the way information is filed, managed, shared and accessed within an organisation."

The system has some heavy-duty defence in the form of the John Hopkins University and CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), both of whom are currently testing it in beta. The actual product will be available to everyone else on 14 November.

At the same time, IBM also announced that its TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller storage software will now link to storage arrays from Hitachi and Hewlett Packard and it is planning to expand to cover InterSAN, McData, Oracle and Veritas. It will also be embedded in Cisco’s MDS 9000 at the start of December.