Apple Rolls Out Xsan Software

Apple is building on its forays into servers with the Xserve and Xserve RAID hardware, introducing a new storage area network (SAN) file system that it claims is destined for wider enterprise use beyond its traditional audience of video and media professionals.

The Cupertino, California-based company said the Xsan — touted as an end-to-end, “high-performance, enterprise class SAN” file system priced at less than half the cost of alternatives from IBM, SGI and Avid — meets demand from Apple’s loyal video professionals but also will be hard for IT buyers to pass up at US$999 per system.

Nevertheless, competitor IBM questioned Apple’s enterprise readiness, noting that Mac OS X is rarely used outside of specialty shops and wondering about details of Apple’s SAN offering.

“They’re certainly strong in visual arts, and they have customers there, but that’s more of an end-user than backend-datacenter setting,” IBM manager of strategy for storage software Jeff Barnett told TechNewsWorld. “We haven’t seen very much detail from Apple on exactly what the capabilities are.”

Easy as You Can

Touting its strength in ease of use, Apple said its new Xsan software can provide scalable, high-speed access to centralized shared data for video workflow and storage consolidation — complementing its Xserve and Xserve RAID hardware.

Apple director of server software marketing Tom Goguen said the Xsan — the fifth product line from Apple to target the enterprise sector — brings the storage area network within reach of more customers based on cost and ease of deployment.

“For the first time, people can get an enterprise-class SAN solution for under $1,000,” Goguen told TechNewsWorld. “It’s as easy to use as you can make a SAN file system to be.”

Media Pros and More

Goguen said the Xsan, available in beta now and slated for autumn in production form, originally was built to meet demand from video professionals who found it impossible to work with high-definition video without a SAN. Those users now will be able to collaborate on the same media files with the scalability and performance they need — and the product also is up to snuff for the enterprise datacenter.

“This is an enterprise-class solution, so it goes well beyond our video customers,” Goguen said. “I believe we’ll have lots of opportunities — we’ll hit video hard and we’ll succeed, but over the long term, we’ll be even more successful outside the video market.”

According to Apple, setup, administration and monitoring are built into Xsan’s Admin tool, which provides volume management, SAN file system configuration and remote monitoring in an integrated interface. The SAN system was built to be interoperable with ADIC’s StorNext File System, allowing its deployment in heterogeneous environments that include Windows, Unix and Linux. Xsan also uses ADIC’s StorNext data management software.

Who’s the SAN Man?

IBM’s Barnett said it is interesting to see other vendors coming forward with SAN solutions because it confirms the level of demand for such products across many market segments. However, Barnett indicated that IBM is not viewing Apple’s solution as competition, at least not at this point.

“It’s not clear what’s involved,” he said, noting that IBM SANs offer capabilities such as policy-based provisioning and file-based flash copy. “It’s like comparing [a] total storage SAN to a network attached storage (NAS) solution.”

Barnett added that while Apple may be introducing a low-end SAN tailored for the media market, IBM feels confident about its hold on the enterprise storage sector.

“We’re clearly focused on storage components and solutions, and the early indications are they’re not really going to compete with us,” he said of Apple. “We’re still in a leadership role in SAN, and we haven’t seen anything that comes close [to our solution].”

Apple Surprise

Nevertheless, Goguen said that with an Xserve, Xserve RAID hardware and the new Xsan, users could purchase a total SAN solution for less than $30,000. He noted that when this figure is compared with a competing total-solution price tag of $150,000 to $200,000, IT professionals cannot help but take a look at Apple’s software.

He added that he believes Xsan will follow the same path as other Apple products that were made for the company’s core markets but spread to wider use over time.

“With price-performance, we’ve seen a lot of interest in our products coming from places we never dreamed we’d see an Apple logo,” Goguen said.

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