IBM Emphasizes Integrated Storage

IBM is emphasizing software-defined storage and the importance of storage integration with networking, virtualization, big data, and the cloud.

David Hill

December 3, 2013

4 Min Read
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IBM's storage products are catching a ride on the "software-defined" train. In its latest offerings, IBM is emphasizing software and the importance of storage integration with networking, virtualization, big data, and the cloud.

Just as John Donne's famous line, "No man is an island" applies to a person's interactions with the world around him or her, so "No storage is an island" means that storage cannot function well without interacting with other components of the information infrastructure -- servers and networks in particular. Increasingly, decisions about purchasing storage must take into account the hardware and software with which it works. We will use IBM's fall announcement on storage to illustrate this point.

Storage announcements used to resemble those introducing new car models. Both dressed up "feeds and speeds" to make them appear more attractive than they might really be. While there is still the need to do some of that (as evolutionary product improvement is useful), explaining how your products work effectively with the big trends in IT, such as server virtualization, cloud computing, and big data analytics is essential.

Hardware architectures are still important, but the operative differentiating word in both storage and servers today is "software." Software differentiates effective and powerful "hardware" platforms from the ordinary and supports a vendor's essential value-added features.

Increased enterprise workloads

IBM has four storage product families under its rubric of Smarter Storage, and a separate family of what the company calls Unified Storage. At the top end of IBM's enterprise storage solutions are the DS8000 and XIV families. The DS8000 represents a traditional disk-based heritage architecture that IBM sells primarily to its installed base of server customers. Performance, robustness, availability, and security -- the hallmarks of enterprise storage -- are necessary for traditional application workloads that DS8000 products run, including mission-critical applications.

So what could be done to extend this strategy? The answer is an all-flash array, the DS8870, which dramatically increases performance for those who need it. A number of economic cases can be made to justify the purchase of an all-flash array versus an all-HDD array, or even a hybrid-flash array. Faster IBM Power 7+ controllers and OpenStack support are included.

Looking toward big data and cloud

The XIV family is aimed straight at enterprises. XIV has a non-traditional disk-based architecture that is built in a grid where parallelism, scalability, and predictable, consistent performance without tuning are key characteristics. Although XIV can manage traditional workloads, IBM also believes it is a valuable solution for emerging workloads, such as big data analytics, where the grid-based architecture, as well as higher performance and capacity usage can provide large benefits.

XIV can also facilitate cloud implementations with IBM Smartcloud Storage Access and IBM Storage Integration Server. IBM added a Statement of Direction for multi-tenancy in XIV that will enable logical partitioning for security and quality of service (QoS).

Note that although XIV works with installed IBM servers, it is also completely server agnostic. In this regard, the company has taken the opportunity to sell the product line to enterprises with other server environments, as well.

Midrange storage gets software defined

IBM considers the Storwize family to be its midrange and entry-level storage family. However, while the lower end of the Storwize family can certainly serve at the entry level, other products in the line may be used even in very large enterprises.

IBM is working to differentiate the Storwize family from a traditional, disk-based array family, to a more software-driven, functionally rich platform that can meet modern business needs, such as increased server virtualization and cloud implementations. The company is highlighting software-defined storage (SDS) in conjunction with the Storwize family to illustrate the benefits of integrated storage.

SDS is part of the fashionable software-defined panoply of terms spreading across IT. It's generally understood as the pooling and abstraction of storage services and capabilities from the native physical storage itself. This allows features such as automation to tie policy-driven storage provisioning to managing service level agreements.

[Interested in other options for software-defined storage? Read more in "Software-Defined Storage Startups Win Funding".]

One of the foundations of SDS is storage virtualization. IBM has a strong track record in this with its SAN Volume Controller (SVC), which the company incorporates in the Storwize family. This is just one way IBM integrates various SDS-focused solutions.

IBM also heavily supports the OpenStack open standards effort. Integration OpenStack with Storwize will further enable the management of IBM and other storage products, and make managing service level agreements easier.

It's no wonder IBM has emphasized software-defined storage so much when discussing the Storwize family, and the integration is all about bringing life to hardware through advanced software. All in all, though storage evolution is certainly not standing still, IBM illustrates that no storage is an island unto itself.

IBM is a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.

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