One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish: IBM's Piranha swims with the sharks

IBM announced today at PC Expo in New York, a SAN-ready storage offering that lets users test and integrate storage area networks before they buy them. This pre-packaged approach, called SmartPaks, lets the customer optimize SANs for data consolidation and protection as well as disaster prevention or sharing, based on the company's needs and size.

With the debut of SmartPaks as well as the unveiling of a low-end storage server dubbed Piranha, IBM completes the SAN initiative that it launched a year ago. Since then, IBM has developed a complete line of SAN-ready storage products from the high-end Shark Enterprise Storage Server to TigerShark FAST500, a midrange offering.

SearchStorage.com talked with IBM's Director of Netfinity Enterprise Storage Solutions, Tom Schaffer and Director of Markeing for SANs, Jill Kaplan to explain how this new offering fits into Big Blue's aggressive SAN plans and how it plans on keeping pace with competitors who are looking for a fish fry.

SearchStorage.com: In your announcement, you use the phrase "the industry's only and complete range of SAN-ready storage offerings" when referring to Netfinity offerings, including Piranha, Shark and TigerShark. That's a pretty sweeping statement. Can you back it up with examples? Is anything similar to what you offer out there?

Schaffer: IBM Netfinity Piranha is the fastest and, at under $8,000, the most affordable storage server in the entry-level market. Together with Shark Enterprise Storage Server in the high-end and TigerShark FAST500 in the midrange, the addition of the Piranha gives IBM the industry's only complete range of SAN-ready storage offerings. The SmartPaks are fully interoperable. They offer compatibility on the management software level as well as on the device level. The closest offering is that of Compaq's new storage-on-demand offering.

SearchStorage.com:You say these products will put SANs more quickly in the hands of customers. How so?

Schaffer: The SmartPaks are soft bundles, they allow for modification. They're very much a template. In the fall of 1998 we announced the NetFinity Fibre Channel subsystem, which had a fibre front-end, and a SCSI back end architecture. In March of this year, we announced the FAST500, which is full fibre all the way through, front and back. It's a control unit that supports eight servers and scales up to eight terabytes. On the high-end, the Shark is a full self-contained storage server. The Piranha is a self-contained storage controller with a modular architecture. With the Piranha, we're driving down the price point and giving access to fibre technology for those who don't necessarily have the IT dollars to spend on the high-end servers. The Piranha is equipped with the NetFinity director storage management software, which is based on the Tivoli IT Director. The TigerShark and Shark models use the Tivoli IT Director and the Piranha can be upgraded with the Tivoli IT Director as well. The Piranha will be available late third quarter of this year.

SearchStorage.com:What is the aim of the SmartPaks product offering?

Kaplan: Two main points. What we're doing is simplifying the process. Our series of SmartPaks are supported, tested, pre-packaged, and ready to go. We're trying to drive down the price point of adopting SANs. A lot of people are still struggling with SANs and not sure as to the list of parts and components they need to make it work. We're saying we're going to give you some templates that can be tailored to your environment. The Piranha provides the new price point on the Intel platform. There are SmartPaks focused on data protection, consolidation, clustering, and SmartPaks for sharing data.

SearchStorage.com: Within the past year, IBM has been aggressive in its SANs initiatives. How do these announcements fit with that strategy?

Schaffer: The SmartPak concept fits well into our vision. The NetFinity server platform is our move into the Intel server space. Everyone is trying to carve out their own standards. Our strategy is that we're fibre channeling all of our products. We're expanding our global services and interoperability labs into Europe. We test all products for interoperability. It's all industry standard, it's all open storage. We're going toward the IBM goal, the endgame, which is the interoperability of our products. Tivoli is a critical component in achieving that goal.

Kaplan: People say that "backup is the killer app of the SAN," but the bigger play is the any-to-any connectivity and the access of information across the entire enterprise.

SearchStorage.com: IBM Global Services continues to expand its SAN services offerings. You've recently launched new Performance Management and Capacity Planning Services to help customers optimize their SANs. Are IBM's Global Services included with the SmartPak bundles?

Kaplan: Within each SmartPak there are options of 40 hours, 56 hours, and 64 hours of consulting and assistance time. This time is not exclusive to, but includes IBM's Global Services, as well as services from IBM's partners, depending on which SmartPak. This time includes the installation and setup of the SmartPak.

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