IBM supersizes storage arrays

IBM this week is expected to debut its highest-capacity storage arrays, although the products' real differentiator is a mix of management technologies designed to help customers get a better handle on where to store growing volumes of data.

Sources say IBM will introduce its TotalStorage DS6000 and DS8000 this week in New York, pitting them against high-end offerings from competitors such as EMC and Hitachi. The TotalStorage boxes, which IBM declined to discuss, are said to borrow technologies from the company's servers and Tivoli management products to support advanced storage capabilities such as virtualization across different vendors' platforms.

With 192T bytes of maximum capacity, the DS8000 boasts more than triple the capacity of IBM's previous high-end offering, the Enterprise Storage Server Model 2105. It also surpasses EMC's Symmetrix DMX, which maxes out at 173T bytes, but has some catching up to do with Hitachi's TagmaStore, which tops out at 332T bytes. IBM's DS6000 will hold 67T bytes, sources say.

But sources also say IBM has designed its new arrays with more than capacity in mind. They say the boxes are well designed to fit into environments that require high-end storage systems to complement the modular midrange-capacity devices many customers favor these days.

Managing that high-end/midrange marriage has become key for the high-end vendors - among which IBM ranks third behind EMC and Hitachi - because customers are buying fewer of the biggest systems.

IBM has included virtualization technologies in its arrays that stem from the company's SAN Volume Controller, currently a stand-alone appliance, and zSeries and i5 servers. Virtualization lets companies simplify distribution of stored data across arrays.

While Hitachi offers virtualization across different vendors' storage systems and EMC promises to do so, IBM's new arrays will let customers exploit virtualization technologies via Tivoli Storage Manager back-up and data management applications, which can be hosted on the arrays.

The introduction of the TotalStorage boxes also marks IBM's initial support for Fibre Channel drives in its high-end storage arrays instead of its proprietary Serial Storage Architecture, which is used to attach SCSI drives in an array. Both new arrays also support mainframe Fibre Connection attachments, and the larger DS8000 will support Enterprise Systems Connection, too.

The arrays will feature many of the technologies found in IBM's Enterprise Storage Servers, such as FlashCopy, peer-to-peer remote copy and parallel access volumes, which boosts performance by allowing concurrent I/Os to the same volume.

Word that the DS6000 would enable replication of data to other IBM storage devices, including Enterprise Storage Servers, has customers intrigued.

"I need to replicate data, but I don't want to spend the same amount on the storage at both ends of the pipe," says Ken Walters, senior director of enterprise platforms for the Public Broadcasting Service in Alexandria, Va. He says he might, for example, use a more-expensive system at headquarters and less-expensive systems at disaster-recovery locations.

Industry watchers say IBM could use a boost to its business, particularly at the high end. A recent Schwab Soundview report said: "IBM continues to show weakness in the high end, with its share down two points [year-over-year, 16% in first-quarter 2004 vs. 18% in first-quarter 2003], which we attribute to share loss in mainframe-attached storage to EMC."

IBM does not split out financial results for its storage hardware business from general hardware, but did say in a recent financial report that: "Storage Systems revenue increased for the second quarter and first six months of 2004 compared with the same periods in 2003 due to increased demand for external midrange disk and tape products."

For the first six months, storage revenue increased 10% over the first six months of 2003, IBM said.

The company also is expected to upgrade its TotalStorage virtual tape server, a disk-based array that emulates a tape library. While the product has supported only 12 SCSI 3590 tape drives, customers will be able to attach as many as six 3592 Fibre Channel drives. This is expected to improve throughput about 15%.