IBM outlines storage strategy

In a move uncharacteristic for IBM Corp., the company’s storage division today shared details of current research projects they hope to productize in the upcoming years.

In a visit to the company’s storage research lab in Almaden, Calif., Jai Menon, co-director of IBM’s Storage Systems Institute candidly discussed a number of cutting-edge technologies and future products, including a new storage architecture, a virtualization engine, and a means to create Logical Unit Numbers (LUN) – with performance guarantees – within an array.

“Our goal is to have 60 per cent of research efforts become productized,” said Menon, who would not comment on potential availability dates of any products. He did however share IBM’s vision and possible design for a new modular storage architecture dubbed “IceCube.”

The modular storage system is created with what IBM is calling Collective Intelligent Bricks (CIBs). CIBs can be stacked and connected without the use of wires, cables, or connectors. Additionally the bricks, which look like car batteries in the company’s prototype, neither contain fans nor power supplies. They do however contain 12 disk drives, totaling 1.2 TB, and are connected via capacitive coupling, which is loosely defined as the transfer of energy from one circuit to another by means of the mutual capacitance between the circuits.

The prototype of a brick has six of these circuits, which touch each other when stacked in place. Via these circuits the stacked bricks make somewhat of a distributed system. The idea, explains Menon, is to eliminate the need to replace an entire system when a portion of the system goes down.

He went on to explain that in order to keep the system cool, the researchers are working on a cooling system that uses heat pipes to move the heat produced by the disks to the edge. And once at the edge water flowing up and down the structure of the stacked bricks will take the heat away.

Menon was adamant in explaining the technology is still three to four years out. He did say a version without water cooling could come out sooner.

In addition to the IceCube bricks, Menon also outlined the research arm’s “SledRunner” project.

The thrust of the technology, which will appear in the form of software loaded onto a Linux server, is guaranteed performance of a Logical Unit Number (LUN). Menon explained that virtual LUNs are easily created with other software; however none promise that the LUN will perform as expected due to other applications sharing the same storage system.

The new technology automatically throttles applications sharing the storage to ensure a particular application is getting the storage performance dedicated to it by an administrator.

Other technologies discussed include further details of the company’s previously announced StorageTank technology, and a virtualization engine that will compete with offerings from DataCore, TrueSAN, StoreAge, and Hewlett-Packard.