IBM Connects with Storage

IBM will stray from a key component of its high-end storage subsystems in an effort to move ahead with connectivity in 2000.

Big Blue next week will introduce the next generation of its Seascape enterprise storage products, currently code-named Shark and soon to be called IBM Enterprise Storage Server, with platform support for Unix, Windows NT, and mainframe environments.

In its rush to catch up from a connectivity standpoint, however, IBM is temporarily giving up features that customers view as essential.

Sources said significant software that supports such features as backup and recovery, synchronous and asynchronous remote copying, and snapshot capabilities will not be available until early next year.

By introducing the product now without these components, IBM may temporarily lose the capability to offer virtual storage.

Users are not happy with the prospect of losing these key technologies.

"If you were to take virtual storage away from us, that would sound the death knell for how we do storage management," said Jack McRae, a director of systems for the city of Los Angeles, which currently uses IBM's RAMAC Virtual Disk Array.

"[Virtual storage] has allowed us to reduce our management staff from a high of about six to basically one quarter of one person. And if we were to take that away, we'd have to ramp up the staff again and train ourselves on how to do it," McRae added.

But creating a product that enables virtual storage takes time.

"IBM recognizes the value of virtual, but virtual technologies are really hard to develop," said John McArthur, program director for storage research at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. "What IBM is doing is delivering the best possible solution of their own development that they can deliver today. Their real plans [for virtual storage] are for the first half or sometime in 2000."

According to McArthur, this means IBM will temporarily stray from a storage architecture that offers "tremendous value" by breaking one-to-one relationships between data, making it possible to share physical storage space and simplify data replication.

The result is a cost-saving consolidation of physical storage and the elimination of storage management overhead.

Analysts said IBM had to change its strategy in order to become competitive.

"What IBM is trying to do is put together an enterprise storage platform that can attach to any server platform," said Carl Grenier, an analyst at the Meta Group, in Stamford, Conn.

"In effect, what they're trying to do is catch up to EMC and Hitachi," added GrenierCompetitor StorageTek characterized IBM's announcement as an abandonment of an architecture that many customers such as McRae need.

"What [IBM is] telling their customers is, `Here's the new gadget, and in five or six months we will make it virtual,' " said Chauncey Schwartz, director of strategic planning for the enterprise disk business group at StorageTek.

As an alternative, StorageTek on July 26 will make an announcement of its own, pledging to step up the functionality of its virtual disk arrays so customers can retain their virtual storage capabilities without having to forego the connectivity gains that IBM offers with Shark.

By the end of this year StorageTek will offer Unix connectivity via SCSI; a graphical user interface for NT environments, enabling single-console storage management; and high-speed data movement capabilities that will greatly boost performance.

StorageTek plans to offer NT support and Fibre Channel connectivity early in 2000, and is announcing a program through which it will upgrade and honor the warranty on any existing StorageTek disk array, whether it was sold under its brand or an IBM name.

"It's our way of saying, `You made a smart investment and we're going to honor that,' " Schwartz said. "Bottom-line benefit is, customers don't have to change the way they do business and then change it back in eight months."

According to analysts, IBM will attempt to avoid the virtual storage discussion by differentiating Shark with such benefits as cross-platform support, increased speed, guaranteed performance and availability, enhanced reporting capabilities, and price.

IBM Corp., in Armonk, N.Y., is at www.ibm.com. Storage Technology Corp., in Lewisville, Colo., is at www.storagetek.com.

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