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IBM grabs grid storage startup XIV

IBM rings in the new year by acquiring Israeli storage vendor XIV, which specializes in grid systems designed for emerging Web applications.

As expected, IBM today acquired Israeli-based XIV Ltd., giving it a leg up in the race with EMC Corp. and others to provide grid storage for Web 2.0 and other emerging applications.

IBM did not disclose the acquisition price, but the Israeli financial news publication Globes earlier this week reported IBM would pay $300 million to $350 million for XIV.

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XIV, founded by former EMC chief engineer Moshe Yanai, kept a low profile in the storage industry, although it claims to have shipped products for more than two years, with 4 PBs in production at customers' shops. Its Nextra system is built around software nodes that run on industry-standard hardware. XIV claims its software handles thin provisioning, snapshots and remote mirroring. Nextra supports iSCSI and Fibre Channel, and scales to 1.28 PB.

David Vaughn, marketing manager for IBM storage systems, said IBM would sell Nextra as an addition to its current storage lineup, rather than replacing any systems it sells now. "This gives us an architecture that allows us to address what we call emerging workloads -- Web 2.0 applications, digital media, etc.," he said. "It also brings a very talented group of people into the IBM Storage Group."

Yanai and XIV's other 49 employees will join IBM.

Analysts agree that Nextra is a different class of product than what IBM or other storage vendors offer. EMC has disclosed plans for a Web 2.0 storage system it intends to release this year, but hasn't given many details. Analysts aren't sure what to make of XIV, which has managed to stay below the radar, despite selling an ambitious feature-packed scalable storage system.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Steve Duplessie said XIV's systems are similar to Isilon Systems Inc.'s clustered architecture, but handle block storage, while Isilon is limited to files. "XIV's attempt is to become a next-gen SAN company as opposed to a monolithic SAN company," Duplessie said. "Nextra is designed for Web 2.0 digital content that nobody had a clue about two years ago. This content requires outrageous levels of scale on demand, runs on cheap component-based hardware and is self-healing. I think of it as a commercial adaptation of the Google world."

Illuminata Inc. analyst John Webster said EMC's Web 2.0 system may be similar, but we won't know until EMC takes the wraps off of it. "It's a very different architecture than what I've seen -- this is not RAID, for example," Webster said of Nextra. "I've been thinking that RAID is getting long in the tooth anyway. I think we'll see the appearance of more non-RAID architectures that promise resiliency, better performance and the ability to generate copies more quickly and recover from faults more quickly."

Webster hesitated to compare Nextra to other storage systems, "because I don't know much about the software running under the covers. It's distributed node-based software, but it's not distributed outside the box. It's sort of a centralized grid. The control units are nodes and distributed. That implies there's a lot of communication between nodes to make this work."

Although IBM said Nextra won't compete with its current systems, XIV marketed it as an "enterprise-class SAN," and Yanai headed the high-end Symmetrix team at EMC. Nextra also has features, such as thin provisioning, that IBM lacks in its storage systems.

"IBM's positioning this in the Web 2.0 space and for new applications is interesting in that they put it in places where it doesn't compete with anything they're currently shipping," Webster said. "I think that's somewhat artificial. In that 4 PB number, it's unlikely all of that is used for Web 2.0 applications. They don't want sales of this device to cannibalize anything that's going on with their current products."

Still, Duplessie said it's unlikely Nextra will challenge traditional high-end systems such as Symmetrix or IBM's DS8000, at least in the short term. "Architecturally, this is in theory the right way to do any kind of storage, but nobody's proven this works as stated, let alone has the ability to handle transactional data," he said.

Wachovia Corp. financial analyst Aaron Rakers sees XIV competing most closely with EMC's coming Web 2.0 system. "While [XIV's] comments of grid computing, or a massively parallel scalable architecture, appears to be competing in the Web 2.0 market with the likes of Isilon and Network Appliance Inc.'s Data OnTap GX operating system, we would note that XIV is focused on the SAN market," Rakers wrote in a note to clients today. "EMC has noted that it would roll out its own 'Web 2.0-focused' solution in early 2008, which is increasingly appearing to be a necessary move."

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