The three musketeers acted togeher; all for one; and one for all. EMC, IBM and HDS are 'wannabee' musketeers who want to virtualise each others storage so that customers see it all as one storage pool. In Dumas' story a new member joined Athos, Porthos and Aramis - D'Artagnan. Then there were four musketeers. And we have HP. Now Network Appliance is joining this musketeer party. It has unveiled the ability to virtualise multi-vendor storage. But one of the original musketeers is left out in the NetApp story. EMC's products are not included.

What NetApp has done is to add multi-vendor virtualisation to its gFiler product and renamed it the V-Series. Individual products in the family still have Gnnn format names though. The products run NetApp's Data ONTAP 7G software to manage this inclusion of storage products from HDS, HP, IBM, and Sun (HDS really). For now a single V-Series unit can only support one vendor's arrays. The multi-vendor capability is coming later this year.

NetApp has agreements with the supported vendors. There is no co-operative agreement between EMC and NetApp though. The supported vendors' arrays are:-

- HDS Lightning 9900 V and 9900 series, and Thunder 95000 V series. The TagmaStore isn't included.
- IBM ESS (Shark) and DS4000 series. The DS8000 is not included.
- HP XP disk arrays.
- Hitachi Japan SANRISE systems.
- Sun StorEdge 9900 Series.

All of NetApp's data management applications, such as the SnapManagers for Exchange and SSQL Server, are available to the virtualised heterogeneous arrays. The V-Series can virtualise storage across both Fibre Channel and IP SANs and also present the block-level SAN storage as file-level NAS storage.

NetApp says the benefits of its approach include: 'heterogeneous storage consolidation, rapid provisioning, increased utilization and virtual cloning, near-instantaneous data recovery, disk-based backup, asynchronous and synchronous network independent replication for online disaster recovery, improved adherence to corporate governance requirements, virus protection, and integration with leading applications.

In a dig at EMC, Patrick Rogers, NetApp's VP products and partners, said: “The V-Series represents a true break from the past of ‘NAS gateways’ or ‘storage routers,’ and offers customers new levels of performance, scalability, and data protection." Our old cliche friends, 'pain point' and 'solution', were referred to by Rogers: "I challenge all our competitors to meet the broad array of customer pain points addressed by this solution.”

It will be a test of EMC's emphasis on openess whether it works with NetApp or not.

Storage utility catalogue tick item
It's getting to the point now where are any enterprise storage utility provider needs to enable customers to use their multi-vendor arrays, or continue to buy them, while enjoying the benefits of disk virtualisation. Sun, HP, EMC, HDS and now NetApp all have multi-vendor disk virtualisation facilities. The virtualisation is carried out by a hardware platform attached to a disk controller (HDS and, via its OEM relatonship, Sun) or an in-fabric box - a director (EMC, IBM and Cisco) or an appliance.

We covered suppliers like Maranti and Maxxan and their virtualisation plans here. The other obvious main supplier is StorageTek. It has disk virtualisation in the shape of its FlexLine V2X2/V2Xf Shared Virtual Array disk system. But multi-vendor virtualisation has not been publicly mentioned by the company. We might well expect that it will.

Another expectation is that Sun will offer its own multi-vendor virtualisation capability courtesy of attributes of Solaris 10 and Niagara. Sun exec Mark Canepa has hinted something along these lines.

IBM's virtualisation efforts accelerating
At CERN, where IBM is involved in grid development work, its SAN FIle System product recently met a benchmark result. It read and wrote data to disk at rates in excess of 1GB/second for a total I/O of over 1 petabyte (1 million gigabytes) in a 13-day period. It involved writing and reading over 300,000 files - each 2GB in size - into and out of the SFS-managed storage of 15 iSCSI targets.

IBM's SFS is designed to provide scalable, high-performance and highly available management of large amounts of data using a single file namespace regardless of where or on what supported operating system the data reside. NetApp is expected to have a similar global namespace capability courtesy of its Spinnaker acquisition.

IBM has also announced it has more than 1,000 customers for is disk virtualisation software, one of them being Cisco for its own internal IT.

Virtualisation as part of ILM
IBM is planning to add tape support to its SAN File System product plus non-disruptive file movement among storage pools. We can look forward to all the main virtualisation vendors integrating virtualisation as a foundation capability of their information lifecycle management products (ILM)

This time next year EMC, HP, IBM, Network Appliance, StorageTek and Sun should all have ILM offerings with integrated storage virtualisaton. It will be interesting to see if HDS does this. The tension, we might even say 'pain point', for HDS is that it is perceived as a disk and drive array supplier, not a systems supplier. How can it include system-level ILM capabilities in its TagmaStore enhanced drive array controller? How can it include tape support? Step forward Sun in an extension of their alliance?