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IBM's Enterprise Storage Server: A real shark or just a guppy?

IBM has shipped 10,000 Shark Enterprise Storage Servers in less than three years, but is Big Blue's high-end storage system all that it can be?

IBM marked a "milestone" on Monday with the shipment of its 10,000th Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), code-named Shark, but three years after its big splash, some users and analysts, as well as the competition think the high-end storage server is lacking in the technology department.

One user from a major telecommunications provider, who did not wish to be named, called Shark a "weak technology" with many "unresolved issues."

One of those unresolved issues has been virtualization. Last month, IBM took a step forward in that department by announcing plans for a Linux-based virtualization engine that will debut in 2003.

EMC spokesperson Mike O'Malley said that his company has more than a two year lead over IBM in the storage software arena.

O'Malley said IBM's recently announced plans to supply a "virtualization engine" aimed at enabling systems administrators to view and access a common pool of storage on a network, is too little, too late.

"This should be a relief for customers of the IBM ESS ("Shark") as IBM cancelled any kind of virtual management capability for the ESS product 14 months ago. With this "virtualization engin." IBM claims it will be providing ESS customers with functionality that EMC, Hitachi and Compaq have delivered as standard technology for years," O' Malley said.

An anonymous client manager for one of IBM's business partners said that IBM learned the hard way that "bean counters have no place running a sales organization."

"Shark has not been much of a threat, with basic features like native Fibre Channel adapters missing for so long and connectivity issues to other platforms, it has been a real pain for their sales force to justify [Shark] to potential Fortune 100 customers," said the source.

IBM begs to differ

"Over the past few years, Shark has injected new life and competitiveness into IBM's data storage business, providing customers with a viable alternative to the proprietary offerings of niche storage vendors," stated Linda Sanford, senior vice president and group executive, IBM Storage Systems Group. "The Enterprise Storage Server is the flagship of our comprehensive storage product family and customers can rest assured that we will continue to enhance its performance and function as we develop and introduce complimentary interoperable software technologies."

IBM said that the Shark has been made-over a number of times including the upgrade of its FICON, SCSI and Fibre Channel interconnect technologies.

"The Shark has gone through no fewer than 150 different easily identifiable improvements in performance and scalability," said IBM spokesperson John Power.

According to Power, the Shark has undergone the fastest technology ramp-up of any product in the storied history of IBM.

"You need to have an annual, basic [cycle] of new technology," Power said.

Since the introduction of the Enterprise Storage Server in --> 99, IBM has made more than 150 performance enhancements, from interconnects, to disk adapters and processing speeds.

Power said that the future holds new advancements for Shark, including basic hardware enhancements and the addition of technology like logical partitioning (LPAR) capabilities.

Shark is not sunk yet

According to a recently-released Gartner Dataquest report, IBM did gain the most overall market share among the top ten disk storage suppliers in 2001.

Enterprise Management Associates Inc., senior analyst, Mike Karp estimates that EMC has shipped five of its Symmetrix storage systems for every Shark that IBM has sold.

But, he added, that a more valid comparison could be made by measuring the total data storage on each machine. That would account for multiple, small Symmetrix boxes compared to a few big Sharks.

Among the list of satisfied customers is Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corp., one of the nation's largest Medicare carriers.

The non-profit insurance company chose to implement an 11.6T Byte Shark, a 60G Byte TotalStorage Enterprise Tape System 3590 tape library and an eServer z900 earlier this year to handle its healthcare claims.

And, Randy Lengyel, senior vice president of Management Information Systems at WPS Health Insurance, said cost savings were a big issue in the buying process.

"Being a non-profit company, total cost of ownership is also a real concern and after investigating solutions from Sun and HP, we realized that IBM was the only company capable of delivering on all our requirements," said Lengevel.

He added that IBM has supplied more storage capacity and faster backup speeds at 40% of the cost of WPS Healthcare's previous solution from Hitachi Data Systems.

The 10,000th Shark was delivered as part of a storage networking infrastructure IBM is implementing for Frankfurt, Germany-based Commerzbank. The 185T Byte Commerzbank Shark brings IBM's total storage capacity in the market to more than 22P Bytes deployed.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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