Opinion: Empire strikes back

Hoping to regain its place in an industry it practically invented, IBM Corp. is making all kinds of noise in the storage arena by announcing that it has sold off its Mylex division, is forming an alliance with Hitachi Data Systems Corp., and is rolling out a high-end disk drive that takes square aim at rival Seagate Technology LLC’s Cheetah line.

Triggered by the unexpected shrinking of its storage-related profit, IBM has not only inked a deal with LSI Logic to dispose of its Mylex division, one of the more reputable and popular brand names in RAID controllers. The company is also transferring another family jewel-its prestigious but not so profitable hard-drive manufacturing business-to HDS.

IBM and HDS announced in May plans to research and develop new technologies inside a new joint venture company, of which HDS will own 70 per cent. This deal will allow IBM to pursue storage research without the distractions of running a low-margin hard-drive manufacturing business and will make both companies more competitive with agile rivals such as Seagate.

Big Blue’s new disk drive, the Ultrastar 146Z10, is an example of the heights the IBM design engineers are capable of achieving. Available in capacities from 9GB to 143GB, boasting a spin rate of 10,000 rpm, and sporting Fibre Channel and SCSI connectivity, the Ultrastar is a drive that leaves nothing to be desired, except for a 15,000 rpm rotational speed, when compared with the Cheetah.

The most interesting characteristic of the Ultrastar is a resilience to shock that almost doubles that of Seagate’s Cheetah. In plain English: When spinning, the Ultrastar can absorb a harder bump than Cheetah can. Moreover, thanks to a new technology that IBM has named RVS (rotational vibration safeguard), the Ultrastar performs better in array combinations.

Let’s explain. The combined vibrations of an array of drives spinning at 10,000 rpm can easily move the read/write head away from its track, an effect similar to someone smacking your elbow when you’re writing. Most drives have a built-in tolerance to reposition the head when this happens, but the drive will obviously lose momentum waiting for the repositioning to complete.

With RVS, IBM takes a completely different approach; sensors, mounted outside the drive, detect the effect of combined rotational vibrations and automatically correct the position of the read/write head before it can affect performance. IBM estimates that the compensating effect of RVS all but eliminates the performance degradation caused by combined vibrations.

Clearly these moves indicate that IBM is serious about grabbing a larger share of the storage market. And with its newfound desire to target small and midsize business, and newfound commitment to open systems, IBM seems to have a pretty good idea of how to succeed.

Is there an Ultrastar in your future? E-mail us at scott_shafer@infoworld.com and mario_apicella@infoworld.com.