IBM powers up high-end disk arrays

Users gaining upper hand in market

IBM took a major step last week in its plan to remain at the forefront of storage technology by introducing two new disk arrays -- the DS6000 for the upper midrange market and the DS8000 for the high-end market. Both systems are designed for ease-of-use and modular for lower cost. They also feature high-end storage capabilities and virtualization technology, all in systems considerably smaller than previous versions.

The high-end disk array DS8000 features advanced 64-bit Power5 processing capabilities, available in two-way and four-way controller configurations, with eight-way and 12-way versions planned for the future. The four-way configuration will scale up to 192TB of storage. The DS8000 will connect to other vendors' storage systems and uses the SVC (SAN Volume Controller) for virtualization. The DS6000 is built on IBM's Power4 processor and comes in a 3U cabinet configuration that supports 16 drives and 13 expansion drawers. It supports as much as 67TB of storage and 4GB of cache.

Bill Zeitler, senior vice president of IBM's systems and technology group, said he thinks the storage market will shift from one in which vendors are in control to one in which customers hold sway. "This is not IBM taking the storage proposition to market, this is IBM and a lot of partners," Zeitler said. "It is not IBM standing alone that will bring choices to market."

IBM customer Bob Venable, enterprise systems manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, said his company's storage has grown by a factor of 10 in the last four years, while the staff that manages that storage has been reduced. "Soft [logical portioning] is the key," Venable explained.  "We've taken it down from the mainframe to Unix." Venable plans to also partition on Windows and Linux systems, but has not done so yet.

A report from research company PacificCrest says the new offerings should help IBM, particularly in the midrange market. The report says that the DS6000 "will extend some of IBM's high-end functionality into the fast-growing midrange storage market segment."

The two systems compete with systems from EMC and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). The DS8000 competes with EMC's Symmetrix platform, while the DS6000 rivals EMC's Clariion and HDS' new TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform, which was announced last month.

IBM's competitors were quick to comment on the announcements with some backhanded compliments.

"In a way, their approach to having the functionality residing on the intelligent switches and the like validates our approach," said Claus Mikkelsen, senior director of storage applications at HDS.

IBM does handle some storage issues differently. For instance, virtualization takes place at the chip level, meaning the DS8000 can divide servers into LPARs (logical partitions). Each LPAR can run and maintain separate storage systems running different code. HDS does virtualization in the controller, while EMC plans to do virtualization on intelligent switches.

According to IDC, IBM had 21.7 percent of the market share in the high-end storage market in 2003, while EMC held the largest share with 34.9 percent.