When it comes to storage you would be forgiven for instantly switching off. But the exponential growth of online business means storage is a necessity for the growth plans of both New Economy and mainstream firms. Storage specialist EMC recently predicted that one major dot com company would fail within the next year because of extended downtime or major data loss. EMC then launched E Infostructure, its storage management initiative with database giant Oracle. In a tit-for-tat move, Compaq last week announced systems tackling high-end storage area networks (Sans). Compaq actually launched its San strategy last December calling it the Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (ENSA). During that time Compaq claimed to lead the San market. Compaq's high spirits are chiefly based on its lead in disk storage systems, where it holds 20% of 1998 world wide revenues. Compaq's closest rivals are IBM with 14.3%, and EMC with 11.5%. Supporting its $6 million (£3.75m) disk storage business is server interconnect equipment, storage extensions for Windows NT, five-channel remote disaster systems, switches and hubs. But this was hardly the stuff of an enterprise level San strategy, and more like the building blocks. What Compaq lacked was something to pull together these blocks. Until last week's announcement, it seems. 'Compaq now offers both remote mirroring and point-in-time storage software - two key enterprise-class storage software applications that many organisations find to be essential,' says David Hill, an analyst at researcher Aberdeen Group. Three products beat at the heart of Compaq's announcement: Enterprise Volume Manager (EVM), Enterprise Backup Solution (EBS) and Data Replication Manager (DRM). EVM is sophisticated data backup minus network disruptions caused by such operations. EVM takes a snapshot of data and updates changes at specified times. This is a significant step forward in performance of existing systems. 'The Enterprise Volume Manager is an innovative solution that helps enterprises solve their shrinking backup windows through the use of snapshots,' says Hill. Compaq beefed up EBS to suite data centres, departments and workgroups. EBS lets customers manage concurrent backup and restore procedures on multiple server and tape libraries from a central location using high-speed fibre channel connections. EBS also goes from five drives and 20 carts, to seven drives and 100 carts. Department-level EBS now supports up to 20 servers in a single configuration while EBS for workgroups is available in a five-server configuration. Data centre EBS starts at $16,500 (£10,300) per server, EBS for departments starts at $8,200 (£5,125) and EBS for workgroups starts at $6,186 (£3,860). DRM now hooks Sans into the wide area network with support for asynchronous transfer mode (ATM). The software side of DRM was developed by Compaq, but the ATM bridge is the result of a joint initiative between Compaq and US vendor CNT. 'Enterprises now have greater storage infrastructure design flexibility through Compaq's ATM technology support. DRM allows longer distances for both remote mirroring and Sans,' says Hill. As with any announcement, the proof of the technology will be its popularity among customers. However, the technology that Compaq has rolled out so far has significantly improved its offering, which should in turn help San users. Compaq backed these announcements by pushing the multi-vendor element of its overall storage strategy. This, it believes, is a primary reason that companies should buy into its particular San roadmap. It has opened a multi-vendor testing facility in Germany where disparate systems have been bolted together using a common storage offering. These systems include Compaq's own ProLiant 8500 servers running Windows NT connected to Alpha DS20 machines running Tru64 Unix, Sun Microsystems' Ultra 10s running Solaris, Hewlett-Packard and IBM servers connected using fibre channel, and an ESL 9000 linked via small computer systems interface. It would appear that Compaq has finally delivered on the promise of enterprise-class storage made a year ago. Like many of the PC vendors, the company has been forced into this strategy by the ecommerce revolution, where data and server resilience are the most important facets of success. PC vendors are playing catch up with the mainframe boys and specialist vendors such as EMC in the data integrity market, but Compaq should fare well, if only because of users' familiarity with its PC offerings.
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