IBM Drives 4-Gbit/s

IBM is aiming for June release of 4-Gbit/s FC systems

May 9, 2005

3 Min Read
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IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) hopes next month to become the first major SAN vendor to offer a 4-Gbit/s Fibre channel system.

The keyword here is "major." Though Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK) began shipping a system based on Engenios 4-Gbit/s controller in April, it's not considered a major SAN system vendor (see IDC: Networked Storage Up). Meanwhile, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) haven’t yet announced 4-Gbit/s ship dates as storage vendors remain split on 4-Gbit/s timing (see Four-Gig HBAs on Parade).

IBM plans June 17 shipment of the 4-Gbit/s DS4800 system, based on the Engenio Information Technologies Inc. 6998 controller and Engenio SANtricity management software (see Engenio Intros 4-Gbit/s FC Storage). The DS4800 will be the new high end of the DS4000 family that IBM sells through an OEM deal with Engenio. As for the existing family members, IBM will continue to ship its 2-Gbit/s DS4500 while discontinuing the 1-Gbit/s DS4400.

The IBM DS4800 comes with dual hot-swappable Engenio controllers, which in turn include eight 4-Gbit/s host-site ports and eight 4-Gbit/s drive-side ones. The system will scale to 67 Tbytes capacity. Pricing begins at $54,000.

IBM is clearly taking the view that the market's ready for 4-Gbit/s now, though others say customers are still satisfied with 2-Gbit/s and that systems won’t run at 4-Gbit/s until switches, HBAs, and hard drives all are available at that speed.So is it too early or not? “That’s a hard question to answer,” says Craig Butler, IBM manager of disk storage products. “Customers looking forward to setting up their SAN infrastructure for next year can be ready. We’re already selling a 4-Gbit/s SAN switch [via an OEM deal with Brocade]; we’ll have HBAs in a quarter and hard drives by the end of the year or so.”

The industry is decidedly mixed on 4-Gbit/s readiness. On the one hand, Engenio, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX), and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) are pushing 4-Gbit/s products early, hoping that customers will adopt them now so they don’t have to upgrade later (see Brocade First With 4-Gig, Last With CUP and Emulex Demos Gaggle of 4-Gig Gear ).

IBM is shipping Brocade's 4-Gbit/s switches. Emulex appears on track to have a 4-Gbit/s HBA by early summer. QLogic has 4-Gbit/s switches available and expects 4-Gbit/s HBA shipments around September (see QLogic Rolls Out 4-Gig Line ).

Meanwhile, others hang back. Hard-drive vendors won’t supply 4-Gbit/s until late this year or early 2006, and an EMC spokesman says there’s no point in offering 4-Gbit/s systems until 4-Gbit/s devices are available throughout the SAN. “We will offer 4-gig systems once there is a market for them, and once the disk drives and other components are qualified,” EMC’s Rick LaCroix tells Unstrung in an email.

HP’s next generation of midrange EVA systems will support 2-Gbit/s rates, with plans to upgrade the controller to 4-Gbit/s early next year (see HP Plans EVA Facelift).One thing: The DS4800 shows IBM remains committed to its Engenio relationship. Butler says other additions to the DS4000 family will surface in coming months. “We’re extending and committing further to this line,” he says.

IBM’s commitment to the DS4000 line was questioned after Big Blue started manufacturing its own midrange series, the DS6000, last year (see IBM Still Loves Engenio). But the DS4000 (former FastT) line is IBM’s best-selling SAN system, and Butler says the DS4000 and DS6000 aren’t direct competitors.

The DS4000 family is for customers using open systems and software, he says, while the IBM DS6000 is aimed at mainframe customers looking to use it in conjunction with the IBM DS8000 enterprise system (see IBM's New Shark Tale).

Butler says the open DS4000 systems use more servers and storage connections than mainframes and are therefore better candidates for 4-Gbit/s connectivity.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch0

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