IBM's Spring Storage Announcements

IBM has just made its spring storage-related announcements and, since the company has a very broad and functionally-rich storage portfolio, the enhancements, upgrades, and new products cover a lot of ground. And, unlike Paris spring fashion shows, which are about style, business announcements are about substance, as customers care much more about functionality than they do aesthetics.

David Hill

May 18, 2011

7 Min Read
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IBM has just made its spring storage-related announcements and, since the company has a very broad and functionally-rich storage portfolio, the enhancements, upgrades, and new products cover a lot of ground. And, unlike Paris spring fashion shows, which are about style, business announcements are about substance, as customers care much more about functionality than they do aesthetics.

IBM's new solutions focused on two main themes: 1) data protection and retention with tape-based systems and other related products, and 2) storage efficiency with a number of disk-based products.

Now, for those of you who think tape has no future, please take note of the following quote from James Gleick's very worthwhile new book The Information (p. 12): "Hardly any information technology goes obsolete. Each new one throws its predecessors into relief." In the context of IBM's announcements, tape is likely to continue to play a key role in the backup process and to pick up new business, especially in providing bulk storage for active archiving. All things considered, tape continues to be more cost effective for those processes than disk-based solutions, as has been shown by one or more studies for each area.

So now on to IBM's new tape products:

  • TS 1140 Enterprise Tape Drive -- The IBM System Storage TS1140 is the company's 4th generation enterprise-class tape drive. The TS series is clearly an enterprise class solution suited for mainframe and large and demanding open system environments. The native (i.e. uncompressed) capacity of a tape cartridge, which is 4 TB, is large by any measure. One big key for the TS1140 is that it is enabled for LTFS (Linear Tape File System) partitioning support, the same technology that is available in current generation LTO-5 technology. That increases the value proposition of TS1140 solutions, since LTFS is going to be increasingly important for the management of tape environments by being able to use the metadata that can now be written to one of the partitions on tape media (where the other partition is used to actually store the data).

  • Linear Tape File System Library Edition (LE) -- LTFS was designed to enable the management of individual tapes, but the new LE solution extends that capability to all the contents of a tape library. Why is that important? Metadata (which includes the directory structure and filenames of the content on a piece of tape media) management is inherently easier when all the metadata for the contents of a tape library can be graphically displayed as needed in GUI format, which is typically a folder/tree structure. That is a key feature in IBM's LTFS LE solution.

  • TS3500 Tape Library -- The new TS3500 Tape Library was enhanced to support LTFS LE and the TS1140 tape drive. But the coolest addition is what IBM calls the "connector and shuttle car". A modern tape library can consist of multiple strings of robotics. On some occasions, a physical tape has to be moved between strings. Multiple Robot hand-offs can accomplish the move of a tape cartridge between strings, but can quickly seem like a Rube Goldberg-style solution (which IBM equates to non-direct airline flights). IBM's new approach is a "connector" or rail that spans interconnected TS3500 libraries on the top. A "shuttle car" picks up a physical tape at one library and then travels over the connector rail to the target library. IBM refers to this connector/shuttle as a "direct flight" approach.

  • Mainframe VTL Support -- Even though IBM recognizes that the need for tape will continue among enterprises, it also understands that disk will play an important, expanding role in the first line of defense for backup data protection. On the mainframe side, IBM announced the next generation Virtualization Engine TS7700 virtual tape library (VTL) for the mainframe family. In addition to performance and capacity upgrades, the TS7700 VTL includes a new feature called Scratch Allocation Assist (SAA). SAA is useful in helping direct workloads to particular systems when VTLs are used in clustered environments.

  • Archiving and Data Deduplication --IBM has enhanced its Information Archive for Email, Files, and eDiscovery. Version 2.1 adds support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, other email systems via SMTP, analytics, index and search enhancements. IBM also announced many-to-many replication for IBM System Storage TS7650 ProtecTIER deduplication solutions. This is important as many enterprises may have a need to replicate backup between multiple data centers and TS7650 ProtecTIER now includes up to four data centers in the mix. This is critically important for disaster recovery requirements and where simply having one remote backup site may not be adequate.

Disk Storage Solutions: IBM new disk systems announcements include:

  • Storwize V7000 -- this top of the midrange line product only went GA in November 2010 yet IBM said that it has sold 2000 systems to 1000 customers, with 40% to companies that have not previously bought IBM storage. So both Storwize V7000 and the company's XIV seem to have done well in selling green field accounts. Now that may not seem important, but it is if we consider that server-heritage companies (of which IBM is one) traditionally find it more difficult than storage-heritage companies to establish relationships with new customers. These latest capacity and performance enhancements (up to 2X with both) with the V7000 should further fuel IBM's commercial fire.

  • IBM Scale Out Network Attached Storage (SONAS) Release 1.2 -- SONAS is IBM's high-end scale-out NAS solution and, as with any good updates, performance improvements (up to 40%) were a significant part of the announcement. The key new capability, though, is functional support for XIVs and for the Storwize V7000. For practical purposes, this allows XIV and V7000 customers to unify their SAN and NAS storage environments and strategies. Plus, unified computing (even through a gateway) is a hot trend in the storage market today.

  • IBM N Series --NetApp provides these multiprotocol, midrange storage products to IBM via an OEM relationship, but IBM considers them complementary to its own homegrown enterprise storage systems (SONAS, etc.). IBM seems to be committed to continuing the NetApp relationship, announcing the N6270, a new model in the middle of the N6000/Gateway series that is the middle of three N series. Faster performance and more maximum capacity (nearly 1.9 PB) makes this a more robust solution supporting a lot of storage. Also new is the EXN3500 storage shelf expansion which delivers additional capacity in a small-form-factor, allowing higher storage densities for a lower cost per GB.

  • DS8700/DS8800 -- These two products now share the same microcode and function. Now, you might ask, if that is the case, why is there a need for two products? The basic difference is that they each use different hard drives that can't be mixed in single arrays. DS8700 customers may want to fill out their disk system with more 3.5" form factor Fibre Channel drives, while new customers may want to migrate to 2.5" form factor SAS-2 drives.

"New and improved" could very well be the mantra of IT vendors (or virtually any other company) when making product announcements. IBM has certainly made measurable improvements over a broad swatch of its storage portfolio. On the data protection and retention side of the house, the new and improved TS1140, LTFS LE, and TS3500 all emphasize the continuing role and importance of tape storage among enterprise clients. But IBM also stressed the critical role disk storage plays in data protection, especially in the areas addressed by its Information Archive and ProtecTIER offerings. On the disk system side of the house, Storwize V7000, SONAS, N Series, and the DS8000 series all enjoyed substantial improvements in performance, capacity, and support capabilities.

Now, none of these announcements are revolutionary. But very few products, whether they come from an IT vendor or automobile manufacturer, are clearly revolutionary. But technologies, markets and customer requirements all evolve steadily over time, a point which stresses the importance of the ancient GE tagline "Progress is our most important product." That progressive tagline seems to apply to IBM's announcements and is a point that we expect will be welcomed by the company's new and existing customers.IBM is currently a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.

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