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IBM Targets SMBs With NAS Storage

IBM last week quietly revealed that it would sell a network-attached storage solution for its System X server platform. This is the first time IBM has offered small and medium businesses an alternative to direct-attached storage. Central to the strategy is a deal with Scale Computing, maker of high-performance storage arrays. Scale began shipping its Intelligent Clustered Storage SATA-based systems using IBM's General Parallel File System (GPFS) in June. ICS will now be offered for IBM's System x3250 servers as the iSN 1000 storage array. Systems integration giant Avnet Technology will distribute the product. Avnet already handles Scale's products and is IBM's largest worldwide distributor.

The move will put IBM in direct competition with the EqualLogic iSCSI arrays offered by Dell, which just last week announced increases in speed, capacity and interoperability. Scale CEO Jeff Ready says such enhancements show that Dell's focus is on markets other than the SMB. "Ever since [Dell] bought EqualLogic, they've used it to try to take market share from EMC," he says. "Those moves upmarket are helping us because it confirms that Dell's bread and butter will be to nip away at higher-performance customers."

Analyst George Crump disagrees. "I don't know that Dell is taking aim at EMC or if the SMB market is simply demanding more from its storage platforms," says Crump. "While clearly the latest Dell announcement could put the EqualLogic systems in that category, I'm not sure if the larger enterprise customers will en masse switch to the solution." Crump is chief steward of Storage Switzerland, and has published a brief report on Scale's TrueCluster SAN/NAS.

Ready says Scale's use of GPFS helped seal the deal with IBM, which developed the parallel file system in the early 1990s for high-throughput multimedia applications. "A common issue [for cluster file systems] is a central repository for meta data, and that creates a single point of failure or bottleneck," he says. GPFS does not suffer from this problem because its metadata is distributed. "We used that to build an architecture. There's no [single] controller unit or brain that controls everything; all nodes look exactly the same." To GPFS, Scale adds the ability to run CIFS, NFS and iSCSI protocols simultaneously, creating a unified SAN/NAS environment, says Ready. GPFS is widely used in academia and high-performance computing. Versions are available for AIX, Linux and Windows.

The initial iSN 1000 purchase--a so-called StarterSAN--would consist of three iSN 1000 nodes of 1TB usable storage each, for a suggested price of $18,300. Additional storage can be added for around $5,000/TB, to a maximum capacity of 2.2PB per file system. With IBM's deep pockets, why not just acquire Scale Computing outright? "I agree that it is unusual for IBM not to simply buy the company," said Crump. "It may be that they have something in the wings that they will be bringing to market and that this is a stop gap measure to hold them over. Either that, or IBM looks at this as a small project being headed up by the System X server platform to help them sell more servers. My guess would be its the latter. IBM has a strong relationship with Avnet and this is a win-win for the server group of IBM, Avent, and of course, for Scale."