IBM shows off modular array

IBM last week demonstrated a prototype of a modular disk array built around self-contained storage "bricks" that plug into one another and include disk drives, a processor, memory, and an eight-port switch for transmitting data to neighboring modules.

IBM officials said the ability to add or remove the modules would let users install and configure an integrated storage chassis that is capable of scaling infinitely and requires little or no maintenance. The modular technology is being eyed as a possible replacement for IBM's Enterprise Storage Server disk array line, known informally as Shark.

But marketing plans haven't been finalized. The modular array, which is being called Ice Cube, could be ready for release by next year -- but shipments also might be as far off as 2007, according to IBM. And the company may decide to use only some pieces of the technology in other products, said Jai Menon, chief technologist for storage systems architecture and design at IBM.

Snap-on Storage

Menon said the Ice Cube concept is similar to that of Lego blocks, allowing users to snap together individual modules without disrupting others. Each module can interoperate with five adjoining ones and replicate data to them for backup purposes, he added. The 3-ft. prototype that was shown during a press briefing here contained 27 bricks, each capable of holding 1.2TB of data.

"I think it's pretty amazing. It certainly is simpler and takes less floor space" than conventional arrays, said Thomas Rowland, a vice president of technology at financial services firm Pershing LLC. "If the price, reliability and the functionality is there, that'd be great."

Bob Venable, manager of enterprise systems at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said he likes the idea of a disk array that could help cut maintenance and storage management costs, which make up 80 percent of his storage-related expenditures.

"That's all I'm worried about -- keeping administration costs low," Venable said. "I think it's fascinating."

Rowland and Venable both gave presentations about their use of IBM's current storage devices during the briefing.

Other vendors have talked about using the brick concept in arrays, said John McArthur, an analyst at market research firm IDC. But he added that he has yet to see anything like the prototype built by IBM. "I think it's really interesting," McArthur said. "But as we know, it's a long ways off."

Menon said Ice Cube would require only 120 square feet of floor space to store a petabyte of data, compared with 800 square feet using conventional arrays.

He added that application servers could use one or more bricks for storage and that the device would keep a duplicate copy of data in each module. If one module failed, built-in software would transfer its data to another brick for continued use and then create a second duplicate of the information, Menon said.

IBM Adds Storage Devices, Takes Aim at EMC

IBM ratcheted up its war of words with storage rival EMC by detailing its "offense plan against EMC," which includes a new entry-level disk array and IBM's first WORM tape cartridge.

IBM said its FAStT100 entry-level disk array scales from 256GB to 56TB and offers many of the same features as its midrange FAStT600 device, but with lower-cost Serial ATA drives instead of Fibre Channel ones. The FAStT100 is due to begin shipping by July.

The WORM tape cartridge, which supports write-once, read-many technology, works with IBM's Model 3592 tape drives and can be used in tape libraries from both IBM and Storage Technology. The cartridge will be available from this week in 60GB and 300GB versions and is designed for storage of corporate records to meet regulatory and internal audit needs, IBM said.

Bob Venable, manager of enterprise systems at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, has expanded his storage-area network (SAN) from 10TB to 110TB over the past four years by installing eight of IBM's Shark high-end arrays. Despite the big increase in capacity, Venable said he has been able to save US$1.5 million per year in storage management costs by using IBM's software to make his operations more efficient.

He added that he hopes to roll out IBM's SAN Volume Controller storage virtualization software next month to manage his installation of Shark devices and IBM's FAStT midrange arrays as a single pool of capacity.

IBM and EMC took verbal shots at each other over virtualization technology late last month.

Ken Steinhardt, EMC's director of technology analysis, responded to the latest volley by claiming that IBM is offering users "vendor lock-in." He added that EMC has opened up its application programming interfaces and added support for the SMI-S storage management interoperability standard across its Clariion and Symmetrix disk array lines.

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