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IBM wants EMC's storage customers

IBM Corp. is gunning for EMC with its XIV storage system, and “Big Blue” claims it is making a dent in EMC’s lead.

IBM last week added a multi-level cell (MLC) solid-state drive (SSD) cache to its Gen3 XIV Storage System, while it also disclosed some numbers to show it is eating into its top storage rival’s customer base.

Bob Cancilla, vice president of IBM Storage Systems, said his division has shipped 5,200 units of both its Gen2 and Gen3 XIV Storage Systems since the end of last year, and IBM added 1,300 new open-system customers to its storage division with the XIV. Of those 1,300 customers, about 700 replaced EMC’s high-end enterprise Symmetrix VMAX or midrange VNX storage systems, he said.

“They are our biggest bull’s eye,” Cancilla said of EMC. “They have seen the impact.”

Cancilla acknowledged IBM “had a poor presence in the tier-one enterprise open space” before acquiring the privately held, Israel-based XIV company in January 2008. IBM re-launched the XIV system under its brand in September 2008. In the fourth quarter of  2011, XIV “was 75 percent of my shipments,” said Cancilla. More than 59 customers have 1 PB of useable storage on XIV systems, while at least 15 customers have more than 3 PB of storage. More than 65% of the XIV systems have at least one VMware host attached to it.

“We are doing a lot of work to ensure we have the latest and greatest VMware interoperability,” Cancilla added.

XIV didn’t have an SSD option until last week, and that is becoming a must-have feature for enterprise storage. The XIV SSD announcement came one day after EMC rolled out its VFCache (“Project Lightning”) server-side flash caching product to great fanfare.  The XIV SSD tier sits between the cache, which uses DRAM, and the disks in the system so when the cache gets full the data spills over to the SSDs.

“You have 360 GBs of DRAM cache and now it goes to 6 Terabytes,” Cancilla said. “It’s a huge jump. It’s a 20x improvement in the cache capability.”

IBM offers SSD drives and automatic tiering software as an option for other storage systems, but this is the first SSD option for XIV. XIV systems include one tier – either SATA or high-capacity SAS drives. Although IBM’s caching option is limited to one of its products, the concept is similar to what EMC is doing throughout its storage array lineup with VFCache. It is speeding read performance for data that needs it while passing writes through to the array.

“It’s like Project Lightning, but in the array,” Silverton Consulting president Ray Lucchesi said. “It’s a similar type of functionality. The differences are IBM is using SSD instead of a PCIe card and it’s at the storage instead of the server. But all the reads go to cache and the writes get destaged to the array.”

IBM also added a mirroring capability to XIV, so customers can replicate data between Gen2 and Gen3 XIV systems.

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