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IBM: Thin provisioning on the way for DS8000

IBM's DS8000 disk arrays get another incremental brushup to go with the new z10 mainframe, and officials promise more new features before the end of the year.

NEW YORK -- On a day when IBM loudly unveiled its new z10 mainframe, described by one excited IBM spokesperson as a "commercial supercomputer," it quietly squeezed in a few upgrades to show its DS8000 high-end storage system is still alive and kicking.

The DS8000 and its smaller counterpart, the DS6000, have been the subject of much speculation in the storage industry, particularly over the last few months. A storage portfolio refresh earlier this month, which didn't mention the arrays, was accompanied by open speculation from competitors that the products had been discontinued.

In the mainframe world, at least, the DS8000 is being updated because several features of the new z10 require it. The DS8000 will begin supporting larger volume sizes of 223 GB, up from 54 GB, in accordance with boosted volume sizes on the mainframe platform. Also new for the DS8000 in z10 environments are more granular failover and efficient data resynchronization between mirrored systems. Customers can now failover individual volumes, rather than an entire array, and the DS8000 will resynchronize only new or changed data between mirrored systems instead of resynchronizing the entire array.

Another storage update that accompanied the z10 release was integration between the

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TS7700 mainframe virtual tape library (VTL) and TS1120 mainframe tape drive. This update was preannounced last year, but has only begun to ship in the last quarter, said Charlie Andrews, IBM marketing director of storage systems.

Features still missing

However, features that have been discussed since a relatively lukewarm update to the high-end storage systems last October still haven't arrived. These include flexible logical LPARs and features IBM competitors have, such as thin provisioning and support for solid-state disk drives.

"We need to do more," Andrews said. "The challenge for us has been the breadth of our portfolio, and where we've chosen to allocate resources." Andrews said IBM has been more focused on lower end and midrange disk array offerings like the DS3000 series from LSI Corp. over the past year.

However, he confirmed IBM is working on thin provisioning and more granular partitioning for the arrays. "We've had a DS8000 announcement just about every quarter for the last year," he pointed out. Another is slated for next quarter, though Andrews declined to comment on whether that would include thin provisioning.

"There are always lots of things you can work on and some of them will become compelling technologies right away, and others won't for at least two years. The important thing to us is not to be ahead of EMC and HDS, but to be ahead of our customers and what they're moving toward as a group."

Andrews did admit IBM has seen a demand for thin provisioning from customers. "I think this year is when we need it," he said.

IBM sees no solid need for solid-state drives

Meanwhile, he downplayed rival EMC Corp.'s introduction of solid-state disk drives to its Symmetrix disk arrays in January. Like Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), which responded to the move by saying there's not yet a market for the technology, IBM doesn't see solid-state drives as the answer to power or cooling, or performance issues in high-end arrays. To drive down cooling costs and free up space on Tier 1 storage, IBM is still going to be "pushing tape forward" as the way to go, Andrews said.

Some have speculated that IP from the acquisition of clustered storage startup XIV Ltd. last month could be injected into the DS8000 to give it a facelift. Others have speculated that IBM will push the DS8000 aside in favor of the clustered system for high-capacity, high-performance storage. But Andrews said there are reasons to keep the DS8000, such as its mirroring features and a performance profile suited to transactional processing, rather than the archival and file-sharing applications IBM is planning for XIV. "Five years down the road, might we integrate some capabilities and features? We might," he said. "But XIV was built to fill in a 'white space' in the market where we didn't have an offering, not to replace something we already have."

This isn't the first time IBM has promised more for the DS8000. Still, Illuminata Inc. analyst John Webster said he has no doubt IBM will keep its promises when it comes to developing the arrays. "Right now, all you're seeing of the intersection between their long-term vision and their high-end storage is the incremental updates from the mainframe perspective," he said. "But I think there will be more."

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