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- The specs

DS6000 up close
"Midrange" is probably a misnomer as applied to the DS6000; it's difficult to hang that label on a storage system that could do duty in small- or medium-sized businesses as well as enterprise departments, remote sites or even data centers. "It has a lot of potential, both as a mainframe connect or an open-systems product--or both if that's what a modest-sized enterprise would need," says Kahn. The Clipper Group, he adds, has christened the DS6000 as an "upper-class storage product" because it represents a second tier within the enterprise class.

Size is everything with the DS6000, and scalability is the name of the game. In its most modest configurations, it has a footprint that occupies a 3U slot in a standard 19-inch rack, and starts out with about half a terabyte of storage for $97,000. Drawers--3U enclosures that house 16 disks--can be added to the rack to boost capacity to 67.2TB. "The DS6000 is an enterprise-class storage device that's one-tenth the weight of an equivalent offering from EMC, the DMX800," says IBM's Lechner.

The modular design should simplify upgrades, and take some of the complexity out of operation and maintenance. The system is "designed to be installed in less than an hour by a non-technical professional," adds Lechner. Maintenance is largely in the hands of users, relying on PathLight diagnostics and self-healing features. DS Storage Manager is another key operation and maintenance component. The software ships with the DS6000 and DS8000, and has been upgraded with a new GUI and a series of wizards. In addition to monitoring and management functions, the program features a configuration tool that lets administrators simulate configurations, save them and apply them to the arrays later.

The DS6000 doesn't support partitioning, but IBM says SATA drive support will be added in the future, so the DS6000 can house a mix of SATA and SCSI disks. Given its scalability and enterprise-class performance, the DS6000 will undoubtedly find its way into data centers for critical or somewhat-less-than-critical applications, and as part of a tiered system. With the addition of low-cost disks, tiering alternatives will be even more diverse. "It becomes another tier to which it might be hard to compare existing products immediately," says Kahn.

Contrasted to HDS' high-end offerings, "IBM is aggressively going downstream," adds Kahn. He suggests HDS will do some repositioning to gain traction.

"To me, the DS6000 seems like more of a category killer than the 8000 series," says Steven Berg, VP and senior analyst at Punk, Ziegel & Company, a New York City investment banking firm. He says he was surprised the DS6000 doesn't support iSCSI,which he considers a promising technology for companies with decentralized operations. Berg notes that EMC's DMX line supports iSCSI and "was really surprised that IBM and Hitachi didn't follow."

DS and Sharks
The two DS offerings are so broad in scope and scalability that they overlap in some respects, notably storage capacity. And the fact that they share nearly the same code base while maintaining compatibility with existing Sharks, should not only ease their management, but encourage their coexistence as well.

A basic scenario might feature DS8000s in the corporate data center, with DS6000s installed at remote locations. With the same copy services running on both DS boxes and the legacy Sharks, it should be relatively easy to move data among all the machines to create a tiered, data management system. "When we get into disk mirroring across locations," notes BCBS' Venable, "we'll look at the 6000."

Common management and software across the lines will encourage the installation of both DS systems in the same environment. "It's a very cohesive software family that allows you to smoothly integrate between the two and use them in a tiered storage environment," says ESG's Hurley, adding that there wouldn't be a "need to have a number of disparate software systems."

The competition
With HDS and IBM making significant storage announcements, one naturally listens for EMC's shoe to be the third to drop. While EMC hasn't hinted at a direct response to these announcements, its upcoming storage router product could compete on some levels--but likely without the breadth of either IBM's or HDS' new offerings. Hurley isn't confident EMC can respond quid pro quo: "I don't believe EMC has anything that would enable them to deliver something similar to what IBM announced," she says.

Hitachi may feel some of the wind leaving its sails, too, with IBM's rollout coming a mere month after its own. While Hitachi's TagmaStore focuses more on virtualization, capacity and performance, IBM seems to be taking a different tack with the DS architectures. While scalability appears to be IBM's main thrust, Hurley says "they definitely have the speeds and feeds," but what IBM has accomplished architecturally is more important.

At The Clipper Group, Kahn's assessment is similar, although he points out that the DS8000 "doesn't solve all the virtualization problems the Hitachi will by putting all the other arrays behind it." But he adds that IBM can counter Hitachi's virtualization with its SVC.

While the merits of each company's approach can certainly be debated, the good news for storage managers is that the new offerings should provide clear-cut choices that address specific requirements.

This was first published in November 2004

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