IBM spruces up storage line

IBM floated a raft of announcements across its storage line, but analysts say they are still waiting for the updates stuck in the research phase.

IBM has refreshed its storage line, upgrading its high-end DS8000 series and its network attached storage (NAS) box, the N7000 series, further deepening its relationship with Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp).

IBM claims the new DS8100 and DS8300 "Turbo" arrays, which now use Power 5 processing chips, offer better performance than the previous 8000 arrays in internal testing. IBM yielded a measurement with DS8300 Turbo of 116,000 I/Os per second (IOPS), 15% higher than the older DS8300's mark of 101,000 IOPS. The new box is also 25% cheaper than the previous 8000 series in the entry-level configuration at $213, 400.

The 8000 series, available Sept. 9, will now offer three-site replication, as well as Tivoli Productivity Center (TPC) for replication, which provides one management console for IBM's Metro Mirror, Global Mirror and FlashCopy services; support for 4 Gbps FICON; and support for tiered storage -- Fibre Channel (FC) and Fibre attached technology adapted (FATA) -- within one system.

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Support for FATA drives and TPC for replication support were also added to the IBM System Storage DS6000 series. The DS6000 series will now come with the option for 24/7 warranty agreements available in one-year increments from one year to four years. IBM also made note of the DS4000 series announcement it had made separately the week of Aug. 7.

Meanwhile, the new N7600 and N7800 -- a rebranding of the NetApp FAS 6030 and 6070 -- will offer simultaneous NAS, iSCSI and 4 Gbps FC storage area network (SAN) support, as well as two new included software features -- FlexShare, which allows for the prioritization of I/O within a shared volume and MetroCluster, which allows for remote failover at distances up to 100 km. The N7000 series boxes will be offered as either an appliance, starting Sept. 1 for $140,500, or a gateway, starting Sept. 22 for $113,500.

Finally, IBM changed out the back end of its DR550 and DR550 Express fixed content storage systems, from a DS4300 to a DS4700. It also made the first announcement of support on the storage side for the latest DB2 release's I/O prioritization and cooperative caching capabilities, though that support in the AIX system will not be available until Nov. 17.

No one announcement in the package of upgrades is earth shattering, according to analysts -- but taken together, it's a step forward nonetheless. "It's a lot of incremental progress," said John Webster, founder and analyst with the Data Mobility Group, "but it's across a number of different lines."

"It basically confirms the roadmap [IBM] presented to [analysts] months ago," said Roger Cox, research vice president at Gartner Inc. With the DS8000 updates, Cox said, "they're continuing their march in the high-end space," noting that Gartner numbers show IBM made gains on its competitors in 2005.

Both analysts were also intrigued by the deepening of IBM's relationship with NetApp. Big Blue now offers all of NetApp's storage products, and according to Charlie Andrews, director of product marketing for storage at IBM, will be developing products together in the future.

"It's clear that the relationship is flourishing," Webster said. He also said he felt that the NAS/SAN offering would be the most valuable for users, although Cox said he wasn't sure IBM would market the product in a true NAS/SAN configuration.

"They don't seem to want to push for more competition for their own products in the SAN space," Cox said. "They told me that they're not aware of many cases in which customers want to install the [NetApp] box as a SAN, but I've been personally handling inquiries for customers about it."

As for the tiered storage options, analysts said they weren't concerned about the fact that the tiers of storage within the box were not automated, as several of IBM's midrange competitors have begun offering in the last few months. (See Compellent users try tiered storage automation).

Particularly at the high end, where the DS8000 plays, "you've got to apply many different data protection schemes, from RAID levels to backup policies," Webster said. "It's not as simple as just going from one tier of disk to the other."

Partitions and more services in the array -- stuck in research labs

Though both analysts said the news from IBM was positive, both also said they were disappointed at a few things that were missing from these announcements. Webster said he had been hoping to see IBM bring a product to market that would be able to run certain applications using the storage controller, rather than a host server.

"They're behind on this," Webster said.

Andrews confirmed that IBM was still working on that capability, adding that IBM so far has been able to demonstrate one such function, a DB2 search assist, in the course of its research. In general, Cox said, whether it's applications or services under the storage controller or something else, he'd like to see IBM do more with the ability to divide the DS8000 arrays into partitions.

"They haven't done a good job clarifying what they're doing with two partitions in that box, other than running a single DS8000 as two ESS800s," Cox said. Other possible uses for the box include tape backup and virtual tape libraries (VTL), but IBM hasn't capitalized on either of those opportunities, according to Cox.

Tape announcement to follow next week?

Elsewhere, industry insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that IBM has another announcement planned for next week that will concern tape. The same sources indicated that the planned announcement will involve automated encryption for both open systems and mainframe tape.

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