IBM says Storage Tank inches closer

IBM has begun early customer testing of its Storage Tank file system, which promises to ease storage management, and the company could deliver the technology by year's end, according to analysts.

Customers have started testing their applications, which run on various server operating systems, with the Storage Tank file system, said Linda Sanford, senior vice president and group executive for IBM's storage systems group, in an interview last week at the Storage Networking World conference. Sanford would not speculate as to when a finished product would arrive, but analysts said the file system technology probably will arrive this year.

"The code is up and running," Sanford said. "We have shown Storage Tank handling databases, file serving and file sharing with various applications. We will introduce it when it's ready to perform flawlessly and our customers tell us they have what they need."

IBM has grand visions for Storage Tank, hoping the file system will simplify the management of data sitting on servers and storage systems made by a wide array of vendors. The Storage Tank file system should give administrators a way to pool servers and storage hardware and manage the data used by these systems from one central location. The technology would help remove barriers caused by different vendors' hardware and allow data to travel across various file systems without losing management policies set by the administrator.

"It allows hardware from Sun (Microsystems Inc.), IBM, HP (Hewlett-Packard Co.) and others that is in a common SAN (storage area network) to have the same view," said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Massachusetts. "Other companies that have been trying to develop that type of technology have been too small, but IBM could pull it off. The question is whether other tier-one vendors will want to partner with them."

IBM, based in Armonk, New York, would like to see other hardware makers share in the development of Storage Tank-based technology in order to solve the painful task of storage management. Sanford claimed rivals have shown a "very positive reaction" to Storage Tank, although major competitor EMC Corp. is one vendor that does not share her perspective on the technology.

"I don't think that trying to do something standard another layer up will solve all these problems," said Jim Rothnie, senior vice president and chief technology officer at EMC, during an interview at the conference. "I think it's just another file system, and it's far-fetched to me that it would be widely adopted."

The cloudy picture of Storage Tank's place among hardware vendors may clear up by year's end when the technology rolls out, analysts said.

"I think it's reasonable to assume you will see things this year," Duplessie said. "The problem now is not much technical as how they will package it up."

Sanford claims IBM has a significant lead over competitors with this type of management technology. Bringing products to market by the end of 2002 would put the company in a good position to compete against similar efforts by Sun, Veritas Software Corp. and others, analysts said.

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