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Analysts speak up on IBM

Shane O'Neill

Does IBM have the right roadmap for continued success? Randy Kerns, partner at The Evaluator Group, and Peter Gerr, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, praise Big Blue's Shark array and virtualization software, but also point out what areas need improvement and what challenges lie ahead.

What are some of IBM's strongest storage products -- the ones that will still be around in three to five years?

Kerns: Probably all of IBM's current products will be around in some form in three to five years. Their SAN Volume Controller (SVC) virtualization software will see significant advancement in that time, particularly for use as a consolidation solution. The SAN File System will be around for some time as the adoption rate for this type of solution will be very measured.

Gerr: The FAStT line of disk arrays is among the best available for the mid-range, and IBM continues to invest heavily in them. At the enterprise level, while the Shark array has struggled in the past to compete with the Hitachi Data Systems and EMC offerings, it is now a solid performer and will continue to be a strategic product. From a storage management perspective, the TotalStorage and Tivoli family of products is deep and powerful. IBM is increasingly integrating their TotalStorage Software products into systems and network management tools as well as application and content management tools. More recently, the company has really innovated with its SAN Volume Controller

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and SAN File System. I think it has proven that multivendor virtualization is possible and that users want it.

Which products should the company think about discontinuing, and why?

Kerns: I don't think there is one right now that merits any thoughts about discontinuing. But it would be advantageous for IBM customers to integrate the Storage Network Management software and the Storage Resource Management software into one offering that uses a common repository.

Gerr: No need to discontinue any products, but I think the company has to do a better job of integrating its tape products into its overall vision for storage management. IBM has also been weak in its network-attached storage (NAS) product lines. So I would advise the company to invest more resources in this segment.

Who or what do you see as IBM's biggest threat in the storage space?

Kerns: The biggest threat has to be the competition and what they are able to do to bring products to market faster and with more customer needed functions with a lower cost point. Certainly, in the storage hardware area, EMC would have to be seen as their chief competitor, followed closely by HDS.

Gerr: I think every vendor has strengths and weaknesses, and it's a shell game with the elite vendors leapfrogging each other with new releases. When a single vendor has as many products as IBM, I'm always concerned about their balancing the development of new products with the ability to sell them into the right environments. But IBM seems to do a relatively good job of managing this. From a long-term perspective, the SVC and the SAN File System are perhaps the most important technologies IBM has because these solutions form the foundation of a virtualized infrastructure.

What has IBM done this year to make itself a stronger storage company?

Kerns: They have met their commitments for product enhancements. Meeting commitments is difficult sometimes and companies don't get credit for the effort that takes. Missing them can be severely damaging and lead to subsequent delays that continue to cause impacts. Being slow to market (with the SAN file system) was certainly an issue, but once they made it to market, then you look at the successive improvements and the commitments to that product. If you only remember it was late, you'll miss what value it brings. It turns out, being late didn't hurt -- customers are going to be very slow to adopt.

Gerr: I think that IBM has finally turned the corner with SVC and SAN File System, where over the past two to three years, they've been pushing that boulder up hill. The next two to three years will really change the landscape of the storage network, with more services and intelligence migrating into the fabric, and so SVC and the SAN File System will be playing an important role.

Do you think IBM has the right road map for future success in the storage space?

Kerns: The storage space is going to be tightly coupled with management software and the evolution toward integrated lifecycle management. One of the biggest issues will be transparency in handling data movement. There are a great number of elements here and IBM has a roadmap to cover many of them.

Gerr: I think IBM has proven over the past five years that it has the confidence to take a hard look at its own products and make difficult decisions that ultimately lead to success. The Shark is a great example of this, where the company invested considerable time, energy and money to make that product competitive with EMC and HDS. It's critical that IBM keep the Shark competitive. Also, the company should build on its ability to virtualize a heterogeneous storage environment to bring the vision of an "on demand" infrastructure to reality. I also think IBM needs to communicate better to users how its various hardware and software products fit together.

For a roundup of all our recent IBM coverage, plus a special interview with one of IBM's key storage executives, check out the first of our strategic vendor series articles next week.


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