SAN storage virtualisation vendor Incipient has announced support for Cisco MDS9000 switches, which the company claims is the first true enterprise-class SAN virtualisation product.

By this it means it runs directly in the switch hardware rather than on an attached appliance or router as IBM's SVC or EMC's InVista do.

Its Network Storage Platform (iNSP) product runs on switch hardware and turns the back-end SAN (storage area network) disk arrays into a single logical pool of storage. It is compliant with the Fabric Application Interface Standard (FAIS). EMC's InVista supports this standard.

The Incipient product can be used, as can all virtualisation software, to have data moved from one array to another without disruption to application access. This means customers can install new arrays and migrate data to them without taking applications down or having lengthy overlap periods when they may be leasing both old and new arrays.

Customers can also implement disk tiering and move less-needed data off primary storage to secondary storage, again without interfering with application data access.

The software provides snapshots and replication functions. Other storage management applications, possibly a virtual tape library function, will be provided over time.

IBM may implement its SVC on SAN switch hardware. It has well over 2,000 copies of SVC installed in customer sites and is the leader in supplying storage virtualisation products running in the SAN fabric. Hitachi Data Systems, with 4,500 intelligent array virtualisation products installed, claims to be the overall leader. Its products run at the interface between a SAN fabric and storage arrays.

However, Incipient believes there are a lot of customers needing its product. Ric Calvillo, its CEO and co-founder, said: "We look forward to capitalizing on the pent-up enterprise demand in 2007." With the IBM and HDS totals there will be at least 6,500 enterprise customers not wanting the Incipient products though.

Incipient intends to add support for Brocade switches in the future.

Other SAN storage virtualisation vendors include StoreAge, which was LSI Logic recently, FalconStor and DataCore, both of whose products run on appliances and not fabric switches.