IBM re-enters storage hunt

IBM Corp. elbowed its way into the enterprise storage market last week, introducing a server product designed to support disk storage for mainframe, Unix and Microsoft Corp. Windows NT platforms.

The Enterprise Storage Server, code-named Shark, puts IBM in head-to-head competition with EMC Corp. and its Symmetrix storage products as well as with Storage Technology Corp. and its recently introduced Shared Virtual Array. All three vendors are active in the federal market.

"We intend to be the leader in the enterprise storage opportunity," said Ron Kilpatrick, general manager of IBM's Storage Systems Division, San Jose, Calif. To date, IBM has been supplying mainframe storage to its customers through a relationship with StorageTek; that relationship will continue through the end of next year.

Sherry O'Hara, federal storage brand manager with IBM, said Shark will open new business opportunities for the company with federal agencies.

"This answers [requests for proposals that] we've seen in the past,'' she said, in which agencies required storage that could be used with multiple platforms or that offered quick input and access speeds.

"This is a high-performance box. We do see customers with that sort of a situation, and in the past we probably haven't had a box that answers all those needs," O'Hara added.

For example, she said, S/390 mainframe users who deploy Shark no longer will have to wait in a queue to have data requests processed.

The IBM announcement means more competition and more choices for federal agencies in the emerging market for storage-area networks. SANs enable users to network and centrally manage storage devices rather than having to manage multiple storage systems connected separately to local-area networks.

David Hill, senior analyst with Aberdeen Group, Boston, said the proliferation of products means that agencies soon could see better prices for storage and solutions that more closely meet their needs.

"When you have choices, organizations can get a better match," he said.

StorageTek Strikes Back

The announcement brought a pre-emptive response from StorageTek, which said it would assume warranties and service agreements for IBM customers using the IBM RAMAC Virtual Disk Array and new Shared Virtual Array products. StorageTek also said it would help customers upgrade to the Shared Virtual Array. StorageTek's main attack on Shark is that Shark does not yet offer virtual storage.

"You have an opportunity as a customer to go with the [company] who was there first," said Chauncey Schwartz, director of strategic planning for StorageTek's Enterprise Disk Group. "That should give them a sense of confidence that their investment is very well-protected."

IBM said it will continue to support customers who use the StorageTek products.

Meanwhile, the company will add virtual storage capability to Shark by the end of next year, when its current contract with StorageTek ends.

Hill said the virtual storage feature is not important to all customers.

Meanwhile, Mark Fredrickson, an EMC spokesman, called the Shark announcement "underwhelming." He said one weakness of the system is that it does not yet incorporate Fibre Channel technology, an emerging standard for SAN connectivity that is native to EMC's and other vendors' products. IBM will offer Fibre Channel capability initially through an add-on product but plans to make it native to Shark by the beginning of next year.

In the federal market, Fredrickson said IBM would "obviously get a chance to present the merits of the Shark product, so we certainly take that threat seriously," but EMC still thinks customers will prefer its systems.

Shark is designed to connect to a variety of servers, including Windows NT, Unix and IBM's S/390 mainframe platforms. The system is scalable, supporting 420G to 11.2 terabytes of data.

The product is based on IBM's Seascape architecture, which is a set of storage products the company announced in June that aim to allow building of modular systems. The architecture forms the basis for IBM's SAN strategy.

"The customers that I've talked to want these SANs to be open, and they're not too interested in being the ones that bring it all together," IBM's Kilpatrick said.

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