IBM Refresh Is Muted

IBM picks its spots in a year-end storage system update that fails to thrill

October 23, 2007

4 Min Read
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Users hoping for any drama in IBM's latest storage upgrade are likely to be disappointed. Big Blue has picked its spots carefully, including virtualization, enterprise and SMB storage arrays, and VTL wares, but most improvements are incremental.

Here's a rundown:

  • Virtualization. IBM has finally adopted NetApp's Virtual File Manager, which comes from Brocade, as part of its product line. Years after NetApp's original release, IBM's OEM'd version provides global namespace for files on Unix, Linux, and Windows servers. IBM is selling its IBM System Storage N series Virtual File Manager (VFM) in the Enterprise and Migration editions featured by NetApp. (Migration is a lighter version of VFM that handles Windows files.)

    VFM Enterprise and Migration will be available on October 26 for $2,000 and $1,500, respectively.

    IBM says that any customers who also use VMware won't have to toggle between vendors to get service from now on. "If something breaks, you can call either vendor. We both agree the solution works, and we now have a formal statement of support on both sides," says Charlie Andrews, director of IBM system storage product marketing.

  • VTL. Responding to increased interest in high-end tape archiving, IBM has added larger 750-Gbyte SATA disks and the ability to interact with LTO-4 tape drives to its TS7520 open systems VTL. The enhanced product will sell for $104,769 starting December 7. IBM says the improvements will also support IBM's half-height LTO-4 cartridges for smaller firms.

    DS3000/DS4000 improvements. IBM has added 750-Gbyte SATA drives to the DS3000 unit and opened it up to IBM System p servers and BladeCenter Power units. For the DS4000, a firmware upgrade expands volumes beyond the 2-Tbyte capacity they've had until now. Also, IBM has added RAID 6 support to the DS4000 midrange system.IBM says improvements to the DS3000, DS4000, and VTL will appeal to SMBs. Given that IBM's system storage sales rose just 1 percent year over year in its latest quarterly earnings report, Big Blue is clearly aiming to leverage the segment's growing popularity.

  • Enterprise. On the enterprise side, IBM boasts improvements to the DS8000 Turbo series announced in August 2006. Changes to the system, which is made by IBM, include a feature called IBM FlashCopy SE, whereby point-in-time copies consume only the amount of storage required to save updates. Up to now, the DS8000 has sent all the data in a particular set each time a snapshot was made. Now, IBM says the elimination of extra copying will reduce storage requirements and ease pressure on WAN links for remote users. FlashCopy SE will be available to license from $6,500 starting on November 16.

    Notably, IBM has stated its intent to offer thin provisioning, but the company won't give any further details about it.

    IBM also has added a free upgrade called cascading FlashCopy, the ability to make point-in-time copies of FlashCopies, a function that might come in handy in development environments, according to company officials. Also new (and free) is Dynamic Volume Expansion, which lets users resize DS8000 Turbo volumes without stopping the system.

    The DS8000 also has a new management console, the IBM System Storage Productivity Center (SSPC). This element manager will be used to track performance of the DS8000 series, as well as IBM's virtualization device, the SAN Volume Controller (SVC). By the middle of 2008, the new SSPC will replace the consoles of both products. There's also a roadmap to put other IBM wares, including the DS4000 and DS6000 series, under the new SSPC.

    "We want the same look and feel and common usage characteristics throughout IBM storage management products," says Charlie Andrews, director of IBM system storage product marketing. IBM had to start somewhere, he says, and since many enterprise customers use both DS8000 and SVC, these two products were picked for a common interface first.

While all of the improvements are noteworthy for existing customers, nearly all of them comprise elements that rivals already provide. Further, support of volume elasticity for the DS4000 and the ability to store only incremental updates to FlashCopies isn't what some industry mavens would view as real thin provisioning. And IBM's management software may be acquiring a continuity of "look and feel," but any really useful consolidation of functionality, at least for midrange customers, remains elusive.

At least one analyst, who asked not to be named, assesses today's news as follows: "I think support of the Virtual File Manager is the news here. I'm happy to see that."Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • LSI Corp. (NYSE: LSI)

  • Network Appliance Inc.

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