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IBM Continues To Upset Conventional Wisdom On Storage

There is a natural tendency to want to create a sense of order out of disorder. Now large IT vendors often have overlapping product lines with different architectural heritages. That is especially the case in storage, where mid-range storage arrays and enterprise-class storage arrays have different lineages, but where each may best be used is not always clearly delineated. Even within a product family, products can be dissimilar. Analysts, in particular, may find this mystifying (aren't there efficiencies at all levels from manufacturing to sales from having a unified product line being lost?). Nonetheless, we soldier on trying to create some product order even when there isn't any.

However, the truth of the matter is that product diversity is probably a good thing as it prevents a vendor from becoming locked into just one way of thinking, offers customers choices, and may enable one product to benefit from market trends where another may suffer (i.e., don't put all your eggs in one basket theory). Despite these rosy thoughts, some seem to think IBM went beyond the pale when it acquired XIV. One reason is that XIV has a very different architecture than conventional storage arrays and, for some reason, many analysts have found it hard to understand XIVs. Another reason is that XIV does not seem to fit easily into the product continuum from small to large arrays. XIV tends to be considered appropriate for larger sized customers, but it cannot really be positioned to either the left or right of IBM's enterprise-class DS8000 storage systems. That two products occupy a similar space implies that one should replace the other.

What people need to understand is that XIV allows IBM to defy conventional wisdom in classifying storage. To understand that, first recognize that vendors who come from a server heritage, notably Dell, HP, IBM, and Oracle-Sun, typically do not sell storage off-platform. That is, HP tends to not sell its storage to accounts that have IBM server platforms and vice versa. Yes, there are exceptions, but even though a DS8000 could work perfectly with non-IBM servers, it simply does not happen as a rule. Of course, vendors that come from a storage heritage, namely EMC and HDS, intend to work with server architectures of every sort.

IBM is not focusing on accounts where a customer has already bought non-XIV IBM storage, which limits cannibalization only to existing IBM-storage accounts where the customer really feels that XIV has characteristics that cannot be met by standard arrays. Instead, it is targeting accounts with IBM servers, but non-IBM storage and accounts with neither IBM servers nor IBM storage.

In the first case, XIV gives IBM a fresh storage "face" to attempt to replace the storage incumbent. In these cases, traditional IBM storage arrays did not succeed, so maybe the XIV, will. In the second case, traditional IBM storage has little chance against conventional products from the incumbent systems vendor. Here, XIV's unconventional design may attract mindshare and at least have an opportunity to bid for a share of wallet.

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