Apple quietly raises the stakes

An almost timid announcement adds the new SAN file system to Xserve RAID Normally I don't cover Macworld Conference & Expo, not because it's not an interesting show but because until now Apple Computer had not much to propose about storage. Things have changed.

Not everyone has realized this yet, but the storage world has a new star in Apple.

The Xserve RAID was clearly Apple's first significant step into storage. The unit comes with an elegant 3U rack-mounted enclosure -- which makes similar solutions from other vendors look as if they're wearing peasants' clothes.

Inside that shiny, silvery box, the Xserve RAID can store as much as 5.6TB in 14 SATA drives. No less important is the fact that you can connect its two FC (Fibre Channel) controllers to a variety of switches, as well as serve its storage to non-Apple servers.

The price of this beautiful baby? About $US11,000 for a configuration filled with 250GB drives -- not bad at all.

In addition, during the week just before Macworld, Apple announced the release of Xsan, a revolutionary file system that can provision storage space directly from a SAN.

Why is having a SAN FS (file system) important? Because it moves the business of serving files to other servers or to client machines outside the confined vision of a single file server.

A SAN FS also makes networked storage truly shareable across multiple application servers because the system also manages and coordinates file access. Advantage No. 3 is more efficient use of storage: A SAN FS removes the task of managing LUNs (logical unit numbers) and volumes from other servers so that they can focus on their own files.

I can almost hear your objection: "But there's already a technology for doing all that in NAS." True, NAS vendors promise the same benefits, and they deliver -- to a point.

The big difference is that a NAS system is essentially a chameleon that mimics the file-handling and networking behaviour of various OSes. By contrast, a SAN FS is a completely new animal, built to make the most of networked storage without the compromises inherent in the legacies of the past.

Something tells me we haven't heard the last word about Xsan.