IBM plays Piper with EMC campaign

As part of a new campaign designed to steal market share away from storage vendor EMC Corp., IBM Corp. is arming 100 of its consultants and a handful of its channel partners with a new storage migration appliance, code-named Piper, that Big Blue claims will simplify and speed up the replacement of old storage arrays.

Piper is part of a new campaign, to be announced Wednesday, aimed at enticing EMC customers to switch to IBM’s products, said Lou Sciacchetano, IBM’s vice-president for worldwide competitive storage sales. The company has also created a methodology for evaluating and assessing customers’ needs in migrating from EMC systems, he said.

The Piper appliance comes in two versions. The open-systems version is based on eight Vicom Systems Inc. data migration engines, Fibre Channel switches, a management console, and an Ethernet hub. It can be used to transfer data from a variety of operating-system environments, including Solaris, Windows, NetWare, and HP-UX. IBM also has a version of Piper for its mainframe customers, which is built around an s/390 Multiprise 3000 system. “It allows us to migrate from any competitive vendor; mostly from EMC because that’s where the big installed base is out there,” Sciacchetano said.

One of IBM’s first partners to participate in the EMC migration program is systems integrator Champion Solutions Group Inc. The Boca Raton, Fla., company has already used a Piper system to complete four data migration projects for a variety of customers, said Chris Pyle, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

One of Piper’s most significant features is its ability to migrate data to new storage devices without bringing down the system, said Pyle. “It’s something that you snap in, you migrate the data, and you snap back (out) without interruption,” he said.

Piper can work in either an asynchronous mode, where the data transfer occurs in the background as the system continues to run, or it can operate in a synchronous mode, where the host system is brought down and the data transfer occurs much more rapidly. Champion technicians report data transfer rates as fast as 1TB per hour in synchronous mode. Champion paid between US$250,000 to US$300,000 to purchase a Piper appliance from IBM and the company has trained three of its storage engineers on the system, Pyle said.

Piper may be a unique appliance, but IBM’s real strength against a storage vendor like EMC is its ability to be the sole vendor for both server and storage sales, said David Reine, a senior analyst with industry research firm Clipper Group, Inc. “IBM is going after a very vulnerable piece of EMC’s business,” he said.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Finance Center (NFC) recently hired IBM to migrate some of its 30TB of mainframe storage onto an IBM “Shark” Enterprise Storage Server 2105-F20.

For the NFC, which had been using storage devices from a variety of vendors, including EMC, Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek), and Hitachi Data Systems Corp., the Piper’s key benefit was the amount of time it saved. “I manage 30TB of online mainframe storage,” said Bob Cosby, a storage administrator with NFC. “I did not have the luxury of time to spend moving data. It would have taken me months,” he said.

IBM technicians required about 96 hours to transfer 3TB of data from NFC’s legacy systems to the 13TB Shark array, Cosby said. “It’s a neat feature to be able to move the data. I’m sure they’re trying to snatch as much of EMC’s business as they can.”