News Analysis

IBM refreshes storage arrays, adds file virtualisation

Beth Pariseau, News Writer

IBM is refreshing its high-end DS8000 storage array with more efficient snapshots, provisioning and data access, and a new management console.

The upgrade is part of a series of IBM storage enhancements that also include file virtualization and a larger capacity virtual tape library (VTL), but it leaves out technologies, such as thin provisioning and data deduplication, that are increasingly showing up in competitors' products. And as other vendors begin qualifying and shipping 1 terabyte (TB) SATA drives, IBM is adding support for 500 GB and 750 GB SATA drives on the DS3000 and DS4000 series arrays.

Updates to the DS8000 include dynamic provisioning, FlashCopy SE, storage pool striping and Adaptive Multistream Prefetching (AMP).

Dynamic provisioning lets customers expand preset logical unit numbers (LUN) on the fly. But dynamic provisioning does not allow customers to over allocate LUNs, as is becoming common with the thin provisioning being offered by IBM competitors, most recently Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).

FlashCopy SE provides the ability to take space-efficient snapshots. FlashCopy SE saves only changed blocks and pointers back to the full snapshot copy.

Storage pool striping customizes stripe depth on disks to maximize performance and avoid hot spots. IBM first released AMP with its DB2 database. IBM claims it will double the sequential performance on the array when the utility lines up random access bits to be more rapidly read by an application.

"If I'm a true blue IBM customer, this is great news," Evaluator Group analyst Tom Trainer said, because IBM has gone more than a year since releasing an update to the DS8000. "Clients of ours have been asking us if IBM has killed the product -- there's been some competitor FUD out there that the DS8000 is dead."

But while alive, the new features don't necessarily mean the DS8000 will thrive against competitors, such as the EMC Corp. Symmetrix and HDS USP-V series. In addition to thin provisioning on the USP-V, HDS now supports MAID on its midrange storage systems. EMC is expected to follow with thin provisioning early next year.

"You can consider this catch-up," Trainer said. "It at least keeps IBM at the competitive table."

IBM is also launching System Storage Productivity Center (SSPC), a software framework that will consolidate device management and storage resource management (SRM) software for IBM hardware into one console. IBM intends to eventually let users manage all its disk arrays though SSPC, but this first version is only compatible with the DS8000.

Although new to IBM, SSPC is another catch-up feature. "An Intel-based server that aims to be a single point of management for IBM and third-party storage … sounds just like EMC Control Center and the products based on AppIQ from HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.] and HDS," Trainer said.

What about the missing features? According to Rudolph, IBM is limited by its size when it comes to product development. Take 1 TB drive support, for example. "There's nothing about the technology that concerns us, it's just a test and qualification process that we have to go through -- the cycles aren't weeks," Rudolph said. "We take quite a bit of time even after the supplier says the drive is fine, because with the large volume of sales we do, it's a large problem if we release a product and something goes wrong."

Thin provisioning might be the more painful omission for IBM, now that it is no longer found solely in systems of smaller competitors, such as 3PARdata Inc. and Compellent Technologies. Trainer thinks HDS will benefit from jumping out first with thin provisioning among the three major high-end storage area network (SAN) system vendors. "The industry is right now running the risk of having Hitachi be able to thinly provision and virtualizes IBM, as well as EMC before they have the ability to do it themselves," Trainer said.

IBM is also increasing capacity for the VE7520 open systems VTL to 1.3 petabytes (PB) with the addition of support for 750 GB SATA drives. Previously, the product scaled to 884 TB. The VTL does not yet support deduplication, although IBM's VTL OEM partner FalconStor Software Inc. now has that feature in its software.

IBM will add file virtualization from its network attached storage (NAS) OEM partner Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp). The IBM N series Virtual File Manager (VFM) is the same global namespace software that NetApp sells through its OEM deal with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. IBM will offer it in enterprise and migration flavors, similar to the way EMC sells its Rainfinity file virtualization product.

"IBM has been making investments lately in broad horizontal namespace [products]," Rudolph said, citing a recent update to its General Parallel File System (GPFS). "Users have increasingly large archives and deep storage to manage, but they still need high-performance access to files."

IBM also announced today:

  • Support for RAID 6 and volumes greater than 2 TB on the DS4200 and DS4700 arrays (IBM now says volume size is limited by the server OS)
  • An increase in support for the number of Flash Copies on the DS4000 series, from four per volume to eight per volume on the 4200 and 4700, and 16 on the 4800
  • Support for up to 128 partitions on the 4200 and 4700, and 512 on the 48000, an increase from the previous limit of 64 on all 4000 series products
  • A new tape drive, the IBM System Storage TS2240 Tape Drive Express Model LTO-4 half-high (as opposed to the previously existing full-height) model

Pricing and availability

The updates to the IBM System Storage DS8000 Turbo series will be available on Dec. 7. IBM FlashCopy SE has a starting price of $6,500. IBM System Storage Productivity Center has a starting price of $7,500. The IBM System Storage N series VFM will be generally available Oct. 26 at a starting price of $2,000 for the enterprise edition and $1,200 for the migration edition. The enhanced IBM Virtualization Engine TS7520 will be generally available on Dec. 7 at a starting price of $104,769.


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