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IBM unveils new flagship storage system, DS8700

IBM places DS8700 at top of its DS8000 platform, promises performance boost; improved tiering software for solid state drives scheduled for 2010 delivery.

IBM said its new flagship storage system, the DS8700, will ship Friday with a substantial performance boost over previous systems products in the DS8000 platform.

The DS8700 sits at the high end of the DS8000 family, while IBM will continue to sell its DS8300 and DS8100 systems. The DS8000 competes with EMC Corp.'s Symmetrix DMX-4 and V-Max and Hitachi Data System's UPS-V (also sold by Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems) as enterprise systems with mainframe connectivity.

The DS8700 is built on IBM's Power6 processors and has a new I/O topology. IBM claims the upgrades give it a 150% performance boost over the DS8300. Previous systems in the DS8000 line used IBM Power5+ processors, and a proprietary RIO-6 loop for connecting to internal servers. The 8700 uses faster PCI-e IO buses that improve IOPS by connecting directly to servers instead of sharing cables and link cards. The 8700 also has self-encrypting hard drives.

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Like the 8300, the 8700 scales to 1,024 drives. It supports the same solid state drives (SSDs) from STEC, Inc. that IBM introduced for the 8300 this year and added to the SAN Volume Controller (SVC) storage virtualization system last week.

Pricing for the 8700 begins at $290,000.

As with its other systems that supports SSDs, IBM is developing software to optimize data placement by identifying hot data and automatically migrating it between SSD and Fibre Channel drives. Compellent Technologies Inc. already does this with its Data Progression software, and EMC has announced its FAST (fully automated storage tiering) application to do the same. EMC is expected to deliver its first version of FAST this year while adding capabilities next year.

Brad Johns, IBM's manager for enterprise storage, said data placement software for the DS8700 is expected next year. IBM is also planning to add thin provisioning to the 8700 in 2010.

While giving customers a performance bump, the 8700 fails to remove the overlap in IBM's storage platform that has caused some confusion in the industry. IBM also sells the XIV system as an enterprise platform – minus mainframe support – and keeps adding features to strengthen SVC.

"We all know there's a longer term strategy for IBM having three products in the same market," Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters said. Peters said IBM explained its strategy at a recent analyst event a having "XIV to attack the competition, the 8000 line to keep the competition out, and the SVC to manage the competition."

Johns said the 8700 is for mainframe shops that have the most demanding performance needs. "Customers with high transaction rate workloads, such as the financial sector, would be natural for this offering," he said.

While EMC reps say the 8000 platform shows lack of innovation from IBM compared to the V-Max launched earlier this year, analysts say its more important for the 8700 to be an improvement over the 8300 rather than one-up the competition. That's because high end enterprise customers aren't likely to rip and replace their primary storage systems.

"The DS8000 is about keeping the loyal customers happy," Peters said. "At this end of the market, people tend to have inertia and stay with the same vendor. So while a lot of what's in the 8700 is functionality that exists elsewhere in the market, it's not functionality that's been available to the IBM user base."

"It's a necessary upgrade," IDC analyst Benjamin Woo said. "A lot of people have forgotten there's a DS8000 line out there. The 8700 will be generating and handling more I/Os. There's a need for increased power. Markets like the credit card industry and insurance companies still run primarily on mainframes. They can get a lot of benefits from this."


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