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IBM nixes the virtual Shark

A changing market and a change in thinking prompted IBM last month to scrap its plans to implement a virtual storage architecture into its Enterprise Storage Server, more commonly known as Shark. The official announcement, posted to the company Web site at the end of January, was made under the radar as a "change of direction and intent" involving its original plans for the Shark. The virtual architecture was intended to simplify storage management by allowing for many management features similar to that used by the IBM RAMAC Virtual Array. IBM said its plans for storage virtualization now lie outside of the box.

IBM's detractors have suggested that this shift in the Shark's roadmap illustrates a "lack of commitment" toward storage virtualization, but IBM said that is simply not the case.

"The decision to make this announcement was quite simple," said Clint Roswell, a spokesperson for the IBM Storage Systems Group. "This is simply a formal notification of IBM's change of direction and intent, reflecting more how the market has changed, rather than IBM's commitment regarding storage virtualization since we first introduced Shark in July of 1999."

Roswell said that IBM's view of how best to implement storage virtualization has evolved with the development of Storage Tank technology to provide virtualization across a storage area network (SAN) and not be confined to just an individual component, such as the Enterprise Storage Server.

"This SAN-wide virtualization approach offers better management of storage subsystems, will require less hardware and software resources, and ultimately lower cost of ownership for customers than a component-based architecture," said Roswell.

The trend toward virtualizing storage into centralized, easily-managed pools of storage is on the rise, though where to implement virtualization draws much debate from software and hardware vendors alike.

Storage virtualization abstracts the physical characteristics of storage devices into flexible and manageable virtual logical objects allowing the administrator to allocate and reassign storage capacity without making any physical modifications to storage hardware or disrupting any running applications.

"IBM also plans to continue to work with Compaq in developing virtualization products and solutions, but all current and future efforts will include and complement Storage Tank," he added.

IBM plans to debut its Storage Tank technology later this year.

Rumors that IBM would not follow through with the virtual Shark began circulating from the start, according to Illuminata Inc., analyst John Webster. "In IBM's case, they've apparently opted to put [virtualization] in a SAN management appliance (i.e.. Storage Tank) rather than Shark. I don't think we really expected to see a virtual Shark despite analyst's efforts to smoke them out on this issue. It's just another mark against a product that's taken more than its share of knocks," said Webster.

IBM's Storage Tank initiative has been described by Big Blue as a universal storage system capable of sharing data across any storage hardware, platform or operating system. Storage Tank will act as a common language that enables storage devices to freely communicate, regardless of file format.

The Storage Tank technology, three years in the making, was developed by researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center in California and further developed by IBM subsidiary, Tivoli Systems.

"If IBM was never really serious about delivering a virtual Shark, it should have just stayed quiet on the issue. But, I guess after hyping the virtues of virtual with the RVA, IBM couldn't just turn around and tell everyone that virtual arrays were not the way to go," said Webster.

Also lost in the virtual shuffle is the FlashCopy feature originally planned for the Shark. When IBM laid out its original intentions to implement a virtual architecture in the Shark it also planned a "more efficient" FlashCopy enhancement and elimination of physical storage space required by a physical copy.

For more information:

IBM's official announcement

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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