CATEGORY: Storage

REVIEWER: Cyrus Shahabi, assistant professor and director of the Distributed Information Management Laboratory at the University of Southern California (USC).

BACKGROUND: The Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC) is an Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Southern California and funded by the National Science Foundation. The goal of the Integrated Media Systems Center is to define, advance and integrate multimedia and creative technologies to dramatically transform the way we work, communicate, learn, teach and play. IMSC was founded in 1996 to foster the cross-disciplinary programs of research, education, outreach and industry collaboration necessary to bring the emerging integrated media technologies to a new level. The IMSC research effort in enabling technologies is organized into three primary research areas: computer interfaces, media communications and information management. The information management research seeks solutions to the complexities that impede the effective management, access and sharing of integrated and distributed multimedia databases. As part of its commitment to the IMSC, the USC School of Engineering recently provided approximately 9,000 square feet of additional laboratory and office space for IMSC in the Powell Hall of Information Sciences and Systems Engineering Building. The School of Engineering invested over $470,000 last year toward the renovation of laboratory and office space for IMSC. The resulting state-of-the-art laboratories house much of the research activities for the computer interfaces and information management groups.

PLATFORMS: The IMSC computing facilities include over 40 workstations from SGI (Indy, O2 and Octane), Hewlett-Packard (750, J2), NCR, SUN, Intel, IBM and Apple Computer. Graphics and processing power come from an 8-CPU SGI Onyx-2 with eight-channel video input and output. SUN 450 and 250 Enterprise Servers and an NCR multiprocessor augment storage and database facilities.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Typical to an academic environment, we have faculty and students with different preferences, creating a mix of Apple, PCs, Linux and Solaris. Incorporating a NetFORCE filer from Procom Technology into the network storage design means we don't have to deal with heterogeneity at the file systems level. The developments which will arise from this partnership of academe and industry which IMSC embodies will have a profound effect on the world as we know it today.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: For file-based applications, the optimized operating system of the NetFORCE filer provides faster delivery of data across the network by eliminating the overhead of typical server-based operating systems that are loaded with rarely used utilities that simply slow down file I/O operations. The simple Web-based administration allows a single administrator to manage an entire organization, doing away with the need for separate administrators to handle UNIX, NT and other specialized file system environments.

STRENGTHS: The Procom filers provide an attractive storage solution with three key advantages: performance, ease of administration and cross-platform support.

WEAKNESSES: The main weakness of Procom NetFORCE is its slow pace in supporting new platforms as they become available.

SELECTION CRITERIA: IMSC sought the ability to add network storage capacity with vastly simpler installation and administration, greatly improved performance and dramatically lower total cost of ownership compared to traditional server- attached devices.

DELIVERABLES: NetFORCE assists IMSC in our information management research focusing on the creation of an environment in which distributed/federated, heterogeneous, multimedia information can be accessed, presented, content-indexed and retrieved for a diverse spectrum of people in various application domains.

VENDOR SUPPORT: NetFORCE units are plug-and-play and are user-installable without requiring advanced technical support. In addition to the ease of installation and management, Procom offers a three-year warranty and on-site service with next-day or same- day response from trained field service engineers.

DOCUMENTATION: The company supplies thorough user manuals.

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