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IBM adds thin provisioning to DS8000, asynchronous mirroring to XIV Storage System

IBM moves to fill gaps in its enterprise storage platforms by adding thin provisioning to the DS8000, and asynchronous mirroring and dual processors to the XIV Storage System.

IBM tweaked its enterprise storage systems today, adding thin provisioning to its System Storage DS8000, and asynchronous mirroring and dual processors to its XIV Storage System. In both cases, the features are already included in competitors' systems and fill gaps in IBM's platforms.

IBM left out thin provisioning when it upgraded the DS8000 last February with full disk encryption and solid-state drive (SSD) support. First made popular by 3PAR Inc., thin provisioning is becoming a common feature on enterprise systems now that Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and EMC Corp. offer it. IBM already supports thin provisioning for its SAN Volume Controller (SVC) storage virtualization box, and on the XIV Storage System.

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Along with thin provisioning, IBM is making software upgrades for the DS8000 that are intended to improve the speed of volume initiation and provide better throughput for systems using FICON on IBM mainframes.

XIV remains a work in progress

IBM acquired XIV Systems in January 2008, and released its first IBM-branded XIV system last September. Critics claimed the XIV lacked enterprise features such as asynchronous mirroring for distance replication, scalability beyond 180 TB raw, support for IBM System z mainframes and concurrent code load for non-disruptive software installation.

Today's upgrade gives the XIV Storage System asynchronous mirroring and concurrent code load, but the other limitations remain.

"We've been adding capabilities to XIV in a very short period of time since we acquired it," said David Vaughn, IBM's information infrastructure platform manager. "Asynchronous mirroring is a big step to complete the major requirements for our customers."

New dual processor modules give the XIV Storage System up to 30% performance improvement, Vaughn said. XIV also now has an SMI-S interface for remote management of IBM's Tivoli software and an LDAP interface. In addition, IBM is giving customers a choice between a one-year and three-year base warranty for the XIV Storage System. It previously offered a one-year base warranty and customers could add more years.

IBM added a 27 TB entry-level XIV Storage System version earlier this year, but hasn't gone beyond 180 TB. Vaughn said the XIV architecture will allow it to go beyond 180 TB, "but it doesn't scale that high yet." He also said mainframe support for XIV is on the roadmap, but "there's nothing imminent."

As is the case with IBM storage rival EMC, there has been confusion in the industry about where the lines are drawn with IBM's systems. IBM considers the DS8000 and the XIV Storage System enterprise systems although they're different architectures. How does an organization know if it should consider a DS8000 or an XIV?

"If we're dealing with somebody who's a DS8000 customer today, we expect them to buy the DS8000 because they've standardized with it and are comfortable with it," Vaughn said. "If we go into a new account, we would start the conversation with the DS8000 if it's a mainframe account. If the account is completely open systems, we'd start with the XIV."

Analysts said the latest upgrades are necessary for enterprise-grade storage systems. "If you're going to call it [XIV] an enterprise system, the expectation is that all this stuff is there," said Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group. "In an ideal situation, a vendor would have all this functionality from day one, but how do you do that? What they brought out last year with XIV was a first volley."

"It's not like they're the first with these features," said Mark Peters, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group. He doesn't expect customers to buy systems based on which have the best thin provisioning, but they do expect enterprise systems to have it.

As for IBM's product positioning, Peters said it could confuse customers, but "it's far better to have an overlap in products than a hole. People ask the same question with EMC [with Clariion and Symmetrix platforms] about which system to buy, and in both cases the answer that comes back is 'mainframe.' Mainframe support is the main difference, and one system is a scintilla more reliable than the other."

IBM's timing with thin provisioning isn't great. Its announcement comes a day after EMC said it would offer thin provisioning for free with its Symmetrix systems. IBM is charging at least $69,000 to turn on thin provisioning for its DS8000 systems.

Still, IBM's Vaughn said thin provisioning is a money-saver because "you get much better utilization of your disks."

Thin provisioning for the DS8000 and dual processors for the XIV Storage System will be available next month, with the XIV's asynchronous mirroring due later in the year.

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