IBM paints a Seascape

Posted on July 01, 1998

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IBM paints a Seascape

By Zachary Shess

Last month, IBM announced several new hardware and software storage products, all of which fall under the Seascape architecture: the StorWatch family of enterprise storage management tools, the Versatile Storage Server (VSS), and enhancements to its Virtual Tape Server (VTS).

Company officials touted the new additions as part of an overall storage blueprint that addresses customer mandates for easier storage consolidation, a common management scheme, and lower overall cost. Industry observers see the product introductions as a clear message to OEMs, VARs, and end-users that IBM wants to be known as a total storage solutions provider.

IBM officials led with the introduction of the StorWatch suite of tools, which enable administrators to use a common management scheme to plan, monitor, and dynamically allocate data resources, whether the information is stored on tape or hard disks. For example, the StorWatch Reporter tells administrators the location and amount of data stored across the enterprise. Software agents gather information from devices on the network to determine how much data is out there, to decipher usage trends, and to illustrate through a browser interface how much free space is still available. Data can also be collected into a relational database for additional analysis. However, StorWatch Reporter, as well as other products in the suite, aren`t expected until the end of the year.

"Storage is growing at an unprecedented pace," says Bill Pinkerton, director of worldwide marketing for IBM`s Open System Storage unit, "and the question is `How do you get your arms around all of it?` There are bits and pieces of enterprise resource management out there, but there is no complete picture."

Analysts such as John McArthur, program director of International Data Corp.`s Storage Systems division, believe StorWatch is the "key" segment of the Seascape announcements. "This is probably the best example of a company that`s put together a strategy for managing storage resources, whether they`re centralized, decentralized, or both," says McArthur.

Other analysts are waiting to see how it will work once products are shipping. "Is StorWatch the key element? I think that would be going too far, not because of product merit but because it`s not real yet," says Mike Kahn, chairman of the Clipper Group consulting firm, in Wellesley, MA.

Scheduled to ship next month, the Versatile Storage Server is a centralized, shared-disk solution that offers support for multiple servers running UNIX, Windows NT, and OS/400. VSS includes two four-way RS/6000 servers and the 7133 Serial Disk System. IBM officials say VSS offers the data throughput and fault-tolerant capabilities required for a data center, but by using existing 7133 disks and adapters, administrators have the flexibility to remove serial disks and re-deploy them.

"Everybody else says `Buy my storage for your distributed servers and when you consolidate, throw that away and buy my big one,` says Pinkerton. "What we`re saying is `don`t throw it away, bring it with you.`"

Last summer, IBM introduced the Virtual Tape Server and subsequently shipped about 500 units to S/390 customers. Last month`s announcements included several enhancements, giving users more connectivity options. For example, administrators can upgrade to four ESCON channels with data compression capabilities. A SCSI connection option is also on the way. Other enhancements include increased tape volume cache capacity of up to 864GB with compression, and as many as 150,000 logical volumes per tape library. IBM also announced plans for UNIX connectivity to the VTS.

In the scope of the overall Seascape architecture, IBM officials also announced plans for Fibre Channel-based storage area networks. In the near future, a direct FICON attachment via Fibre Channel switches will be available for the VTS and Magstar 3590 tape subsystems. Further down the road, similar connectivity will be offered for the VSS.

According to Pinkerton, IBM will continue to use its SSA disk architecture, but he views Fibre Channel as "an excellent connection technology for linking servers to storage." Pinkerton says IBM does not have any immediate plans to incorporate Fibre Channel at the disk level.

The announcement did little to surprise analysts like IDC`s McArthur, who could not envision IBM walking away from a lucrative part of its business. "IBM is committed to SSA on the back end, but they recognize that on the front end in a mixed environment, the world is going to Fibre Channel. Now all they`re saying is when the world goes there, they`ll be there to support it," McArthur adds.


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