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Infinidat storage wants to rescue stranded IBM customers

Infinidat storage takes direct aim at IBM with Data Rescue Program. IBM users can trade in IBM XIV and FlashSystem A9000 gear for Infinidat InfiniBox disk arrays.

When Infinidat came knocking, Chris Hilliard said he needed only a little bit of convincing to ditch his old IBM XIV storage. Hilliard, a network engineer for the city of Norfolk, Va., said his team had been searching for an alternative ever since IBM "abandoned" the XIV block arrays.

The Virginia coastal city is an early participant in the Infinidat Data Rescue Program, the disk vendor's competitive takeout program. Norfolk this year swapped its IBM XIV storage for 250 TB of Infinidat storage.

Infinidat Data Rescue allows customers to trade in their IBM XIV and FlashSystem A9000 arrays in for an InfiniBox disk array. Infinidat vows to move customer data at no charge and guarantees continuous uptime. Infinidat CTO Brian Carmody said the Data Rescue Program is the outgrowth of "hundreds and hundreds" of inquiries from IBM customers.  

Carmody said IBM customers have complained to Infinidat that IBM has curtailed investments needed to modernize its older storage.

 "This is a specific response to IBM's seeming lack of focus and interest in enterprise storage, which is driving customers bonkers. We had blue-chip Fortune 500 companies coming to us and saying: 'help,''" Carmody said.

Norfolk relied on the XIV storage subsystem for about six years, but Hilliard said IBM's annual maintenance contracts were getting too expensive. He said Norfolk saved almost $400,000 by switching to Infinidat.

Chris Hilliard, network engineer, Norfolk, Va.Chris Hilliard

"The [annual] maintenance cost for the IBM XIV was through the roof. We thought, 'Why pay this amount of money for maintenance of a technology that IBM has clearly abandoned?'" Hilliard said.

IBM suggested one of its hybrid or all-flash arrays as an XIV replacement, but Hilliard said he wasn't comfortable with IBM's projected effective storage after data reduction.

"We didn't like going on IBM's assumptions that our 110 TB of disk was going to compress down to 64 of flash. If IBM had run a utility against our data and given us exact figures, we might have felt a little better about it," Hilliard said.

Cost savings

Hilliard said a three-year renewal of IBM XiV Gen 3 storage was $475,000 for 112 TB capacity. The next incremental upgrade of 65 TB cost an additional $177,000, or $652,000 for 172 TB over three years.

Instead, Hilliard said City of Norfolk bought an Infinibox F2240 array licensed at 250TB for about $313,000, which included a $10,000 trade-in of XIV. 

“Add to that $66,000  for migration services and our total cost was approximately $379,000," he said. "The savings were obvious to us.”

The IBM-Infinidat connection

Infinidat has headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Waltham, Mass. The company was launched in 2015 by Moshe Yanai, who serves as CEO and also founded XIV before selling it to IBM. InfiniBox arrays capture writes on disk and serve reads from dynamic RAM, which is faster than flash media. The vendor also claims InfiniBox can handle petabytes of storage at a lower cost than flash.

Data Rescue puts Infinidat in direct competition with IBM for petabyte-scale workloads, said Henry Baltazar, an analyst for storage at 451 Research. But IBM has a big lead, he said.

"Infinidat is going after big, big workloads because that's where they see value. So they want to differentiate and make their mark there. It seems like their focus the last couple years has been on big deployments, where they can drop in monster [InfiniBox] systems," Baltazar said.

IBM is a big target, but its storage business has been tanking of late. On its earnings call on Wednesday, the vendor said storage revenue tumbled 21% last quarter, which CFO James Kavanaugh blamed on "pricing pressures in the midrange" market and a poor sales of high-end storage tied to IBM mainframes. The 21% drop was the biggest drop in IBM storage hardware revenue since 2014, and IBM storage revenue has declined in 26 of the last 31 quarters since 2011.

IBM said it does not plan a strategic counterattack on Infinidat. Eric Herzog, chief marketing officer and vice president of worldwide storage channels at IBM Storage, said smaller rivals are always trying to poach customers from established vendors. 

"Every startup has some kind of competitive takeout program, and I've been with seven of them in my 35 years in storage. It's sort of normal practice," Herzog said. 

Infinidat isn't the first company of Yanai's to challenge IBM storage. Besides XIV, he also founded deduplication vendor Diligent Technologies, which he also sold to IBM.

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