IBM buys Israeli SAN firm to secure storage future

If there was any doubt that clustering is the future of storage, IBM’s acquisition of Israeli-based storage area network specialist XIV should put that to rest.

XIV’s Nextra systems use industry-standard components including Intel processors, Gigabit Ethernet switches and Linux-based management software, an approach number of manufactures have recently started to adopt.

According to Forrester Research analyst Andrew Reichman, its an architecture that promises lower storage costs and greater scalability for organizations with demanding workloads such as hosting Web 2.0 and digital media applications.

“This has the potential to be a smart move for IBM,” he said.

Using this design, parts of which are offered in products from competitors such as Isilon Systems, Compellent, Lefhand Networks, 3PAR and Dell’s EqualLogic division, if the system need to grow, just add more low-cost processors and disks.

IBM announced the acquisition, which industry speculation puts at about US$300 million, on the last day of 2007.

Most of XIV’s customers are in Israel and the U.S., but David Vaughn, IBM’s worldwide marketing manager for storage products said that “with our global organization, we will be calling on Canadian customers very soon.”

An XIV system can scale from 120 to 1,280 SATA II hard drives, with up to 120 dual-core CPUs. Connectivity is through Fibre Channel, iSCSI or SCSI-3 protocols. Vaughn wouldn’t say how the systems will be now priced by IBM. He did say that they will have an IBM name on them later this year.

“We’ve acquired an architecture which allows us the address emerging workloads like Web 2.0 in a way current architectures don’t,” he said in explaining the acquisition.

However, while Reichman says XIV – and some others – don’t have a key element that in his opinion will make the dream of cheap, flexible storage a reality: A native file-based network attached storage (NAS) system.

Only Isilon has one, he said. XIV and others still use block-based storage. 3PAR doesn’t use industry-standard servers, he added. IBM can offer NAS connectivity through its partnership with Network Appliance, he said, but NetApp is a competitor in this space, which means there’s “potential for disruption.”

Meanwhile storage giant EMC is moving into this space by leaking it is working on systems dubbed “Maui” which does some things a clustered file system does, the company has said. Reichman said EMC has also picked up some of the software expertise needed with its purchase of backup service provider Berkely Data Systems.

These moves mean that IBM is playing catch-up with EMC by buying XIV, he said.

Still, clustered or grid-like storage around an industry-standard architecture is the future, Reichman said. Some workloads will benefit from dedicated hardware-accelerated storage systems, he said, but the percentage of them is decreasing.

“This is probably the future of mainstream storage.”

In other industry news, NetApp said Thursday it will buy Boston-based Onaro Inc., an enterprise storage service management software manufacturer. In a news release the companies said that for existing NetApp customers, the acquisition enables new storage service management and change management capabilities. For Onaro customers, the acquisition was said to bring to Onaro products a significant R&D engine and financial strength to significantly advance product development over the coming years.

The deal is expected to close this quarter.

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