New IBM “Shark” storage system is on the prowl

IBM Corp. upgraded several features of its Enterprise Storage Sever Thursday, attempting to both boost mainframe sales and compete more effectively against storage stalwart EMC Corp.

The storage server – codenamed “Shark” – aims to mix the reliability of the mainframe world with the variety available in mixed computing environments. New to IBM’s latest Shark release are improved disaster recovery systems, Native Fibre Channel support and FlashCopy for open systems, according to a statement from the company.

As part of the upgraded disaster recovery, IBM provided Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy (PPRC) technology. PPRC helps users keep data updated between the primary copy and that located in a remote location. The backup copy can recover data after a failure at the primary location without losing transactions, IBM said. The PPRC technology can stretch over 60 miles.

Also new to Shark, native Fibre Channel support will be included for non-IBM systems. Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Novell Inc.’s Netware operating systems can all work with the Enterprise Storage Server. Shark already worked with Windows NT and across IBM’s entire eServer family.

The FlashCopy technology – available on the mainframe since July and now with Unix and Windows NT host systems – lets a user duplicate data without stopping applications for an extended time period.

IBM contends that its FlashCopy technology beats rival EMC’s TimeFinder by requiring less administrative input to do online backup of databases without bringing the database down.

IBM released its Shark line in 1999 and then added new features in May of this year. At the time of the upgrade, some analysts charged that the lack of Fibre Channel support and limited cache size compared to EMC’s Symmetrix line held IBM’s product back.

The update means that IBM can compete more effectively against EMC, said Mike Kahn, chairman of The Clipper Group Inc., a Wellesley, Massachusetts-based consultancy.

“The new features are all significant,” he said. “Together, they fulfill a promise that IBM made to its customers of what it would bring to Shark. It puts Shark on strong footing with respect to the competition.”

For Kahn, IBM and EMC inherently approach the large corporate storage market in different ways based on the influence of their respective market share. The underdog – IBM – claims to have more open standards and wider support because it has to play catch up, Kahn said. EMC, while becoming more open, can continue to rely on its technology and capitalize now on a rapidly expanding market.

“As an industry leader EMC is the target,” he said. “If you control more of the market place, you are inclined to be more proprietary, but that is not an evil thing in my mind. Just because you do it your way does not mean it is a bad way.”

Kahn added that both IBM and EMC would see heated competition from companies trying to grab a piece of the growing storage pie. Sun, in particular, made several storage-related announcements in recent weeks and could heighten its market presence. Sun will likely make another storage announcement early next week, Kahn said.

Sun’s Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy claimed in an interview last week that EMC will suffer from offering stand-alone storage products as opposed to integrated systems like those Sun wants to deliver. McNealy went so far as to say EMC might not be around a few years from now.

Kahn admitted that McNealy often has a knack for looking well into the future, but added that the prediction will hold true only if EMC doesn’t make changes in its business approach. Kahn, however, doesn’t expect EMC will fall behind.

IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., can be reached at