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EMC bloggers: IBM XIV no enterprise-class storage system

Beth Pariseau, Senior News Writer

Except for information posted on its website, IBM has been silent about its XIV Storage System – leaving analysts, customers and competitors to openly debate the product's good points and bad points.

IBM's cover on the system was blown by EMC's Barry Burke, aka The Storage Anarchist,

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and chief strategy officer for EMC's Symmetrix enterprise storage array. Burke used his blog to point to the IBM website revealing the XIV Storage System's availability. Burke claims that the XIV Storage System lacks enterprise-class storage features.

Data Mobility Group analyst and StorageMojo blogger Robin Harris questioned what market IBM will target with the XIV system. Harris points out the system lacks a clustered file system interface, which is part of most parallel-processing "scale-out" architectures targeting Web 2.0 shops.

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The XIV Storage System also has its supporters. Josh Krischer, former Gartner analyst and founder of Josh Krischer & Associates GmbH, worked as a consultant with XIV Ltd. before IBM acquired the company. He acknowledged that limitations, such the 180 TB raw system having only 24 Fibre Channel ports, is not enough to put the XIV Storage System into the Tier 1 storage category. He also said that the system is also not necessarily the best fit for Web 2.0 applications that function better with clustered NAS systems.

But according to Krischer, there should be no confusion about where the XIV system fits in. "It's a general-purpose storage system that uses parallelization to boost the performance of SATA disks," he said. "It's probably going to take market share from the high end of Tier 2 and the lower end of Tier 1 that doesn't require mainframe connectivity. I believe this is the main reason why the [EMC Clariion] CX4 just introduced such a big capacity upgrade. EMC seems to be the only company that understands the threat of XIV," he said

Krischer said that IBM could also make XIV storage an attractive price/performance play. "Because XIV uses standard components, it can fit any price," he said. "Before the acquisition, XIV was trying to stay around half the price of other midrange systems. With the purchasing power IBM has, it will allow IBM sales to offer prices which will win every deal where price is the main criterion," he said.

Shopzilla is satisfied XIV Storage System customer

Price attracted at least one Web 2.0 company using XIV storage. Last fall Shopzilla purchased three XIV systems, attaching them to database hosts for block storage and through OnStor clustered NAS gateways for file serving.

Burzin Engineer, vice president of infrastructure technology for Shopzilla, bought the XIV systems after about two months of extensive testing. He said, "Because it uses SATA drives and no Fibre -- it's all TCP/IP internally -- the system's still cheaper per terabyte than most of its competitors, under $5,000."

One criticism of the XIV system is that the mirrored system leaves only about 50% of its raw capacity usable. But Engineer said the way XIV spreads data over all disks in the system in 1 MB chunks makes it easier to clone for test and development.

"It just creates pointers to the existing space while it does those 1 MB transfers in the background allowing the clone to be presented immediately to hosts, so hosts can still access the system during the cloning process," he said. "Because all the data transfers are so small, across so many disks, it does so without impacting performance."

Previously, that process had to be initialized on a weekend. "And then, you'd come in Monday morning, and hopefully the copy would be there," Engineer said. "Being able to start working with a clone right away -- there's your ROI, right there."

Engineer is hoping to see the product add rolling upgrades soon, but said in his experience with competitors' rolling upgrades, "There usually seems to be downtime anyway."

Is XIV Storage System a midtier array?

IBM is expected to clarify its position with an official launch announcement soon. Until then, its critics will take their shots. "Based on what we've seen and heard, the XIV system has functions similar to a midtier array -- it's clearly not a high-end array, and it appears that there's some confusion about where this will fit in the IBM product lineup," said an EMC spokesman this week in an email to SearchStorage.com. "So the question remains, what market is IBM targeting this system at?"

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Steve Duplessie suggested in a blog post that IBM "get into bed as deep as they can" with Ibrix for a file system that can turn XIV into a Web 2.0 system. Duplessie added that, amid the confusion around XIV, it's clear that EMC is concerned.

"The very fact that XIV/IBM is getting this much attention tells me a few things," he wrote. "Namely that the EMC bloggers, who leave nothing to chance, are legitimately concerned. … It ain't about the Symm – it's barely about the Clariion – the XIV play is about the next thing."

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