PC Expo showcases RAIDs, crash protection

Hal Glatzer keeps us on top of what's going on at PC Expo. Today he focuses on RAIDs and crash protection products.

Interest in RAIDs was piqued at PC Expo, with developers appealing to both the hands-on and the plug-and-play sides of the IT world.

Hands-on managers—those who can (and do) configure their own RAIDs—will be impressed by the high-performance SCSI and Fibre Channel (FC) RAID controllers that Distributed Processing Technology (DPT) was showing. DPT's new model RAIDStation7 Ultra-2 SCSI Storage Array controller and its model SmartRAID V Millennium Fibre Channel RAID controllers were on display.

Both controllers are designed for newer 64-bit PCI servers, but Johnny Cardosi, vice president of worldwide distribution, said they're also specified to be compatible with "traditional" 32-bit PCI servers. "They deliver enterprise-class performance for today's demanding data-intensive environments," he said. "For those customers requiring the absolute fastest performance in Ultra2 SCSI or FC, [the 64-bit PCI bus architecture] effectively doubles the server-controller data path bandwidth."

The SCSI-based controller is available with one, two, or three Ultra2 SCSI channels and battery backup, and can be ordered for either tower or rack-mount installation. Each SCSI channel can handle up to seven hot-swap drives with capacities up to 36 gigabytes (GB) and rotation speeds up to 10,000 rpm. (See my PC Expo report for news of new drives with those high-end specs.)

The RAIDStation7 can be configured for RAID or JBOD (just a bunch of disks, i.e., redundancy) applications. Unpopulated with drives, the RAIDStation7 controller lists for $3,325 and is sold through distribution channels.

The FC controller can be configured with one or two Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loops (FCAL), each of which can handle up to 126 FCAL devices, at a specified data transfer rate as high as 100 MB per second. The controller comes capable of supporting not only JBOD, but also RAID Levels 0, 1, 0+1, and 0+5—that is, mirroring and striping and combinations of both—as well as caching. The single-loop controller lists for $2,075 and the two-loop controller lists for $2,575.

What’s happening in the market?
Cardosi cited market research conducted by International Data Corp. (IDC), estimating that some 40 percent of workstation and multi-user hard disk drives (HDD) will be FC drives by 2002. Right now, drives that are end-to-end FC are more expensive than their SCSI equivalents, so most storage networks whose architectures are ostensibly "FCAL" actually incorporate SCSI drives with FC adapters. However, while SCSI is still the dominant connectivity option for high-end storage devices, FCAL will eventually supersede it because FC cabling can carry signals for greater distances.

IT managers who don't do their own hardware installations can nonetheless add RAID capacity to their LANs without having to divert technically-savvy staffers from other, more difficult tasks. They can do it with Meridian Data Corp.'s Snap! Server.

The first generation of this product created its own market niche: plug-in storage capacity that essentially configures itself in your LAN. The concept was carried over to this year's version, 2.0, as Jeff Hill, Meridian's vice president of product marketing, demonstrated on the PC Expo floor. He turned a Snap! Server around, pointed to the back, and said, "See—just two connectors: one for electric power, and one for Ethernet. That's all."

What's new this year is a 32-GB capacity option, which is double the 16-GB maximum of the first version. Performance is also faster, although Meridian now offers software that can speed up their first-generation Snap! Servers. Hill says that typical customers are those who are "suddenly" faced with upsurging demand for e-mail or file-access. Pricing starts at $995 for 8 GB; $1,795 for 16 GB; and $2,495 for 32 GB.

However, if more processing power is what's needed, a Snap! Server is not a substitute for an additional NT or NetWare server. But it can provide additional storage capacity wherever and whenever the demand arises. "I've seen it used in big LANs," Hill said, "where one server has to be taken off-line for a day or so. The administrator can offload that server's files to the Snap! Server, which then takes over until the server itself can come back on line." And he noted, "It supports AppleTalk 2.0, and integrates seamlessly with MacOS 7 and 8 in Mac shops."

Protection against system crashes
Crash protection is on every manager's mind. Ideally, files get backed up regularly, which provides long-term protection against loss of data; but what about the short term—the files you were working on when the system crashed?

Wild File Inc . is showing a software remedy called GoBack at PC Expo. In effect, it resets your PC to a point in time before the crash when your file was still intact or a problematic program had not yet been launched. It costs $69.95 from retail channels, and runs under Windows 95 and 98; an NT version is in development.

There's always a tradeoff in computer technology, and GoBack imposes a serious burden on a system: it requires the allocation of approximately 10 percent of a PC's hard disk drive space. "You can think of it as a partition, but technically, that's not the way it works," said a spokesman on the show floor. "It actually comes up before the system boots, and from then on it keeps track of what the HDD is doing, so it can recover from a crash by bringing back deleted files or the unaltered, earlier versions of files. Also, with GoBack, you don't need a separate boot-disk."

GoBack's publicity materials are a bit hyped-up. It's billed as "time travel technology" and promises users that they can "go back in time to before the problem occurred." That got plenty of laughs around the Press Room at PC Expo. But one reporter said, "I've used it, and it really works."
Hal Glatzer is TechRepublic’s person on the scene at PC Expo. If you have questions or comments related to the conference, please send us ane-mail .

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