IBM slowly builds SAN strategy

Posted on August 01, 1999

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IBM slowly builds SAN strategy

Heidi Biggar

Drawing from the re-sources of its disparate business units, IBM this summer began the arduous task of assembling the pieces of its SAN archi-tecture. Of note were announcements from its Tivoli, Netfinity and Global Services (IGS) divisions, outlining key software, network, and service-related plans.

"This spring we took a very preliminary step, obtaining the necessary hardware to construct a SAN," says Kevin Reardon, director of strategy for IBM Technology Group. "In June we took the next step, involving our Netfinity, IGS, and Tivoli teams."

On the software front, Tivoli outlined its two-year SAN management roadmap (see chart), centering on Tivoli Storage Management (formerly known as IBM ADSM). Highlights include tape pooling (due next month), heterogeneous application tape sharing and LAN-free backup (Q1 `00), and server-less backup (Q2 `00).

With the possible exception of server-less backup, analysts say IBM lags the industry in terms of delivering SAN-related capabilities. "They`re just now talking about tape pooling and LAN-free backup, both of which are commonplace today," says Roger Cox, chief analyst at Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose.

However, analysts agree that if IBM leverages its existing tools, it should become a formidable force in the SAN management space. "They certainly have the opportunity to be a significant player," says Carolyn DiCenzo, principal analyst at Dataquest. "What remains to be seen is whether IBM--or Tivoli--can put it all together."

IBM`s inability to bring products to market isn`t limited to storage management software. "IBM has the broadest hardware and software technology portfolio in the industry," says John McArthur, director of storage system research at International Data Corp., an industry research firm in Framingham, MA. "But they`ve lagged in their ability to bring all of their resources to bear on delivering complete storage solutions."

In particular, until last month IBM lacked a common storage platform for mainframe and open-systems environments. The new system, called Enterprise Storage Server, will compete head-to-head with EMC in terms of function, capacity, performance, connectivity and price, says McArthur.

Also somewhat belatedly, IBM later this month will kick off a testing initiative when it opens an interoperability lab in Gaithersburg, MD, which is part of IBM`s IGS division. In addition to testing and verifying interoperability, the new lab will develop techniques to measure SAN performance, says Reardon. IBM already has a component interoperability lab in Tucson, AZ.

IBM also unveiled a new SAN Fibre Channel fabric, including 8-port and 16-port switches, an enhanced SAN Data Gateway, and a "SAN-ready" Netfinity server. The switch is OEM`d from Brocade Communications; the Data Gateway is based on technology from Pathlight Technologies; and the Netfinity, which supports up to eight Pentium III processors, uses host bus adapters from Qlogic.

Regardless of the pace at which system vendors unveil their SAN plans, two thing seem certain, says Cox: 1) The same five companies that own the bulk of the storage market (Compaq, EMC, HP, IBM, and Sun) will likely own the same percentage of the SAN market going forward; and 2) regardless of claims to the contrary, no vendor`s SAN plan is any more open than any other`s at this point.

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