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IBM's Buy Of TMS Shows SSD Appeal

IBM's acquisition of flash storage developer Texas Memory Systems may fuel growth of solid state drives within IT storage products.

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IBM announced an agreement Thursday to acquire Texas Memory Systems (TMS), the privately-held, Houston-based developer of flash storage products tailored for high-demand enterprise use. The deal, which is expected to close later this year, enhances IBM's suite of storage and data center services. It also is a potential sign that the shift from traditional hard disk drives to solid state drives (SSDs) is gaining momentum.

SSDs are faster and more reliable than hard drives, but adoption has been slowed by high prices. Businesses gradually have been finding it easier to clear this once-imposing hurdle, however. Just this week, flash vendors Skyera, Tegile Systems, and SanDisk unveiled aggressively priced new products that should make SSDs more accessible for a number of enterprise uses.

Market research firm IDC estimates that enterprise systems will acquire almost three exabytes--the equivalent of 1 billion gigabytes--of SSD-based storage annually, according to the statement that announced the deal.

IBM will continue to support existing TMS products, which include both rack-mounted storage options as well as flash-equipped PCIe cards. It also will integrate TMS technologies into several of its own product lines, most notably the PureSystems family of prepackaged hardware tools. With all-flash architectures, PureSystems could experience meaningful upticks in speed, efficiency, and dependability.

[ There are many changes taking place in storage technology. Read Storage Goes Scaled Out, Solid State, And Cloud-Enabled. ]

The move also gives IBM direct control over an important component, spelling potential concern for other vendors, such as Fusion-io, from which the tech giant currently procures parts. The possibility of a vendor shakeup, though, has elicited contrasting opinions.

Mark Moskowitz of J.P. Morgan told Barrons that his firm's research indicates all-flash arrays will increase in popularity over the next 12 to 18 months. He also said he sees no immediate reason for Fusion-io to fall out of IBM's circle of partners.

Gary Mobley of The Benchmark Company, also speaking to Barrons, foresaw that Fusion-io would suffer only a "minor setback" if IBM opts to use TSM's PCIe cards in its servers. He thinks it more likely that IBM's purchase will compel an IBM competitor--namely Hewlett-Packard--to snap up Fusion-io. InformationWeek's Josh Greenbaum opined this week that HP has enjoyed some success in software but otherwise lacks a clear vision after Meg Whitman's first year as CEO. Fusion-io could be of use in its restructuring efforts, but "could" must remain the operative word until the ailing Palo Alto-based company more clearly shows its hand.

InformationWeek's Art Wittman recently explored how companies such as Nicira and EMC have had success with software-centric approaches that are basically indifferent to the kind of hardware on which the program is run. Where this ultimately will leave all-in-one hardware-software combinations such as IBM's--SSDs or not--remains to be seen.

New innovative products may be a better fit for today's enterprise storage than monolithic systems. Also in the new, all-digital Storage Innovation issue of InformationWeek: Compliance in the cloud era. (Free with registration.)

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