The Promise of Apple Storage

Apple didn't completely exit the storage business. Promise Technologies takes over as hardware manufacturer for Apple SAN customers.

A few weeks ago, Apple decided that it was no longer cost effective to continue to manufacture its own storage hardware. Instead, it has opted for an OEM agreement with storage vendor Promise Technology.

Apple isn't leaving the storage world completely, though. It will continue to supply a SAN file system known as Xsan 2. This software will be used on a Promise disk array platform from now on.

Specifically, the Promise VTrak E-Class RAID Storage Subsystem has been approved by Apple as the only qualified storage solution for the Xsan 2 and Apple's dominant video editing software, Final Cut Studio 2. These Promise-based RAID units are not available broadly, however. They can be obtained available only through the Apple Online store or through Apple authorized resellers.

"The Promise VTrak E-Class subsystem is one of our many enterprise class RAID storage solutions," said Mike Joyce, senior director of marketing at Promise Technology Inc. of Milpitas, CA. "The subsystem supports fully redundant and hot swappable Active/Active RAID controllers."

Promise has gone to great lengths to make sure its initial offering won't disappoint Apple's demanding user base. It has designed the product with plenty of features to ensure high availability and reliability. Redundant fans and power supplies, for instance, ensure there is no single point of failure. System administrators receive instantaneous user notification in the event of a fault. Further, the subsystem has dual RAID controllers, each with two front end, 4Gb Fibre Channel interfaces. According to Joyce, this provides high performance in either a direct attach or SAN environment.

Promise is gearing up to deal with Apple users with a hefty storage capacity appetite and the requirement of high bandwidth. Apple is big, for example, in the entertainment and graphic design sectors. Such users have zero tolerance for slowdowns as they handle high-quality video, audio and other large files.

As a result, plenty of additional storage capacity is provided. Promise makes this available through dual SAS I/O modules to the VTrak 16 bay expansion chassis. These dual 4x SAS I/O modules provide redundant connectivity and 12Gb/s of total available bandwidth. The VTrak expansion chassis offers the same redundancy and high availability features as the E-Class RAID subsystem. Each 3U 19' rackmount system can support 16 SAS or SATA drives and is available in a choice of drive configurations.

"Particularly appealing to the Apple customer is our intuitive Universal Management Interface," said Joyce. "This is a powerful tool that allows IT personnel to easily manage all of their Promise storage on a network from any connected client."

VTrak is a custom version of the Promise storage subsystem that Apple and its dealer network exclusively sells. It comes with specific firmware that has been created especially for Apple customers. While Promise does offer a similar platform for other operating systems, only the Apple qualified version is supported under Mac OS X. Apple will continue to work with Promise to ensure the latest versions of its operating systems and SAN file systems integrate well with VTrak hardware.

Cornered Market

Promise doesn't just sell to Apple users. Its VTrak E-Class family of dual controller, SAS/SATA based storage arrays function with other operating systems, too. Lower end and midrange storage units are also on tap.

"Promise Technology makes a wide range of products for a multitude of applications and can be found anywhere from the desktop to the data center," said Joyce.

But the Apple agreement could represent an upswing in company fortunes. Joyce isn't saying how much market share in the Apple side that Promise currently possesses. But there is no doubt that the company has cornered a niche within the storage world through this Apple deal. He sees this segment as being one that will experience significant growth in the next few years.

"Apple users are extremely sophisticated and will continue to demand faster access to more storage and uninterrupted availability," said Joyce. "The Promise solution provides best in class performance and ease of use today."

He indicates, too, that this isn't a one off. He sees this as a long-term partnership which will produce many more products into the future.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Apple to provide the high quality products that their customers demand," said Joyce. "Users can be confident that we will continue to work with Apple to meet their evolving needs in the future."

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