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Will IBM's new Shark make a splash?

Big Blue went back to the drawing board to boost the speeds, feeds and capacities of its Shark storage system. But can it stack up against the likes of EMC and HDS?

There has been an undercurrent of mixed emotions among users and experts over IBM Corp.'s Enterprise Storage Server --code-named Shark -- since its debut two years ago, but Big Blue could silence the naysayers with two updated versions of the system.

John Power, product manager for IBM, said the Shark's technology has been refreshed from "top to bottom."

IBM has taken technology developed for its servers and integrated it into the Shark, just as it did with its line of network-attached storage products.

The technology, developed as part of IBM's Project eLiza initiative, gives the system self-configuring, self-management and self-healing capabilities.

The new, self-healing technology has been embedded into the latest version of IBM Director Agent 3.1 and can predict when problems may occur and, has the ability to automatically call another computer for help or even order necessary parts.

Another automated eLiza feature of IBM Director is the ability to predict processor or memory bottlenecks that can slow performance or cause unplanned downtime. The Director can alert the customer in advance of the bottleneck, make recommendations to avoid it, and provide and respond automatically when an alert is received.

"We're doing more under the covers so the customer can more easily manage larger and larger scales of storage," said Power.

End user and system integrator, Bob Martoncik, has been installing Sharks for more than two years and plans to install a new Shark 800 model in his company's data center.

"The 64G Bytes of cache as a standard feature is really nice. Migrations to a Shark with 16G Bytes of cache were averaging 500M-Bit/min transfer rates," said Martoncik. "With four times more cache, we expect that number to go up. The additional FICON support will have other users looking at the Shark and have previously stayed away from it."

The Enterprise Storage Server Model 800 offers 2 Gbps Fibre Channel and FICON data transfer rates and a "turbo" configuration that handles up to 150% more workload than the original system. IBM has expanded its internal cache to 64 G Bytes and increased Shark's internal bandwidth.

The Model 800 also now supports RAID-10 data mirroring and striping, but is also available in a RAID-5 configuration.

The availability of 2Gbps FICON on the Model 800 allows customers to connect mainframes directly to the same open SANs used by UNIX and Windows servers.

Big Blue has also beefed-up its Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy Extended Distance (PPRC-XD) data backup software for mainframe and open systems servers by boosting the throughput by 125%. PPRC-XD copies data at a remote site for disaster recovery purposes.

The Shark 800 is available with different types of disk drives, including 15,000 RPM drives in both 18.2 and 36.4 G Byte capacities.

Along with the hardware and software enhancements, IBM is changing its pricing plan. The Shark's software will now be priced based on the physical storage capacity rather than by usable storage capacity.

The two new models of Shark are targeted at the enterprise market. The 800 model will square off against the HDS 9970 and the EMC 8530, while the 800 Turbo will go head-to-head with EMC's 8830 and the HDS 9980.

"They are taking serious aim at both EMC and HDS, claiming to come in at half the price of these others," said Mike Karp, senior analyst for Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates Inc.

Karp speculated that EMC and HDS may respond by adjusting their pricing for the Symmetrix and Lightning storage systems, respectively.

The true test of the new Shark's mettle may not come until the Storage Performance Council puts it through benchmark testing.

In the first round of SPC benchmark tests, the original Shark, the Enterprise Storage Server F20 with a total storage capacity of 1,201.49 G Bytes and running a RAID 5 configuration earned 8,009.44 IOPS (I/O per second) and a response time of 2.99ms.

IBM plans to put the Shark through its paces next month.

The Enterprise Storage Server Model 800 will be available on Aug. 16.

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

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