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IBM updates storage portfolio, but roadmap questions remain

IBM updates its storage portfolio with incremental changes while pledging support for high-end DS disk arrays.

IBM gave its storage portfolio a handful of incremental updates today, but continues to deflect questions about the long-term strategy for some of its highest-profile disk arrays amid speculation that change is coming to that part of its storage line as well.

The new products from IBM include a prepackaged hardware bundle for the DR550 data archive, a half-height LTO-4 automated tape drive with encryption key management support and an iSCSI version of its low-end disk array for telecoms.

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"Two new bundled models replace the existing solution packaging we had for the DR550 before," said IBM product manager Charlie Andrews. "Previously, when you ordered the DR550, you received a package of hardware and software, but it was more like a recipe than a finished dish." Some of the hardware components had out-of-sync warranties and other incompatibilities. "From the channel perspective, our business partners found these packages harder to sell," Andrews added. "We were holding ourselves back with the packaging."

Customers can choose from two models of the DR550 4.5: the DR1, a 25U, single controller unit aimed at the midmarket, and the DR2, built for large enterprises and packaged in a 36U rack with single- or dual-node configuration options.

IBM already offers a half-height LTO-4 standalone tape drive, but the new tape drive is compatible with low-end tape automation products such as autoloaders and small tape libraries. The new drive's cartridges will also work in full-sized drives, and IBM will bundle its key management software for LTO-4 native encryption.

IBM's NEBS-compliant version of its DS3300 array, based on an OEM of a disk array from LSI Corp., will now also support the array's compatibility with iSCSI. The hardened versions of IBM's DS3000 series arrays feature DC power, high-availability features and hot-swappable redundant components to meet telco uptime standards.

IBM is also shipping new products from its OEM deals with Network Appliance Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. It will rebrand NetApp's new FAS6000 arrays as the N7000 and will sell Brocade's new Data Center Backbone director switch as the IBM System Storage SAN768B.

"In many ways it's an incremental announcement," Andrew acknowledged. "Ultimately, it's all part of how we're trying to provide customers with an integrated infrastructure across several classes of product."

Roadmap for DS Series remains unclear

Below the high-level goal of better integrating products, IBM's storage roadmap remains murky. Questions remain about the fates of the DS6000 and DS8000 high-end disk arrays and how Israeli startup XIV Ltd., acquired last month, will factor in the DS system family.

A blog written by an EMC employee alleged the DS6000 had been quietly taken off the market by IBM, pointing to an announcement letter detailing the discontinuation of extended warranty plans for the DS6000. An IBM official said the announcement letter referred to specific service plans in Europe that were discontinued as part of a restructuring, but not discontinuation of the product itself.

The DS8000 and especially the DS6000 have failed to live up to IBM's expectations, and a DS800 refresh last October left the industry underwhelmed. IBM hasn't done much to spruce up the DS6000, which sits below the DS8000 and above the DS4000 that IBM gets through an OEM deal with LSI Corp. There is talk that a refresh of both the DS6000 and DS8000 is coming soon, but there is also speculation that IBM may change its high-end storage product focus.

Andrews said that the DS series will be upgraded this year, but gave no timeframe or any hint of what features will be added. "We are not moving away from these products," he said. "They continue to be a vital part of our storage portfolio and we continue to move forward with them."

XIV enters the picture

Speculation about the future of the DS series heightened after the XIV deal, which not only brought IBM a new storage system but Moshe Yanai, an XIV founder who was an original architect of the EMC Symmetrix disk array. Yanai joined IBM after the acquisition.

IBM executives have claimed the XIV systems will not replace any of its existing products, but many in the industry see XIV's Nextra system as the logical successor to the DS8000 and DS6000.

"Nothing's necessarily off the table for IBM at this point," said Tom Trainer, an Evaluator Group analyst. "Now that they have Moshe, they could leverage his expertise in the storage business to design and build new features internally."

Despite the speculation, Illuminata Inc. principal IT advisor John Webster said he doesn't expect IBM to kill its high-end arrays. "I would be surprised to see IBM withdraw these products," he said. "Competitors like EMC might think they're not selling because it's hard to see what's included in IBM Global Finance package deals and because IBM may be taking them to more specific markets like video surveillance."

Pricing and availability

Both DR550 systems will become available Feb. 29. The DR1 will have a starting list price of $26,000 and the DR2 will start at $73,000. The LTO-4 drive will be generally available on March 14 with a starting price of $8,300. The IBM System Storage SAN768B will be generally available on Feb. 22 with an entry configuration price of $390,000. The new N7700 and N7900 models will be generally available on April 18 with a starting configuration price of $125,000.

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