IBM outlines enterprise storage roadmap

With emphasis on storage management software, Linux-based storage virtualization, and the open storage architectures proposed by the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association), IBM Corp. on Tuesday outlined its enterprise storage roadmap.

Guided by its recently appointed general manager of storage software Michael Zisman, a former president of Lotus Software Group, IBM’s new plan of action has finally brought Big Blue up to speed with enterprise storage players such as EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems Ltd., according to industry experts.

“We’re impressed at the rate of change that Zisman has been able to bring to IBM’s storage organization,” said Tony Prigmore, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. “This new plan will no longer give IBM sales representatives the excuse to tell a customers that [IBM] doesn’t have a certain storage technology.”

IBM laid out its enterprise storage strategy as a three-prong plan heavy with software. Similar to competitors EMC and Hitachi, IBM’s aim is to migrate its primary storage revenue stream to software while “reducing its dependency on lower-margin hardware,” Prigmore said.

Linux-based virtualization, IBM’s Storage Tank file system, and storage network designs based on mixed-vendor interoperability guidelines set forth by the SNIA represent the three areas of innovation that IBM will pursue along its enterprise storage roadmap.

Still a hot topic in the storage market, virtualization efforts from IBM will improve users’ ability to manage multiple pools of storage as a single, virtual storage disk. IBM’s commitment to Linux will drive its efforts in storage virtualization as many of the storage appliances that foster virtualization are Linux-based, Prigmore said.

Big Blue’s Storage Tank file system will also fuel IBM’s progress along its enterprise storage roadmap, company representatives said. Storage Tank is IBM’s upcoming storage file system for mixed-vendor hardware and software environments.

Both Storage Tank and IBM’s storage virtualization technology will arrive in 2003, according to IBM.

Following many of the interoperability guidelines currently being set forth by SNIA will also be part of IBM’s enterprise storage strategy going forward. SNIA is a storage industry group with a membership ledger that includes nearly every major and minor storage player in the industry.

Zisman said IBM embraces SNIA’s belief that storage management must include technology that improves both block-level and file-level data transfers.

“Our strategy says that we are going to build capabilities at the block level, we’re going to build capabilities at the file level, and in both cases we are going to move intelligence into the network from the devices attached to the network and we’re going to make those device manageable in a multivendor way using industry standards that can be managed by our own [software] managers or other [software] managers such as AutoIS from EMC,” Zisman said.

Until the late arrival of IBM’s Shark storage server in mid-1999, Big Blue was not generally regarded as an enterprise storage player in a market that was quickly moving away from mainframe-style direct-attached storage to networked storage such as SANs (storage area networks).

Now, after two years of what Prigmore called “playing catch-up,” IBM is positioned to go head-to-head against the biggest giants in the storage valley as its enterprise storage roadmap unfolds, Prigmore said.

“Now IBM is going to able to have discussions with the customers which are much more complete discussions regarding storage management, higher functionality options, and the integration of things like replication to backup,” Prigmore said.

“Our message is very simple and very crisp, and we are working hard to educate our troops, not only the sales organization but the marketing and development organization,” Zisman said. “We’ve gone through a long process of distilling this strategy down, and I think we now have it down to the point where it’s pretty simple.”