IBM re-focuses SAN strategy

Posted on August 01, 2000

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Analysis

By Richard R. Lee

IBM continues to move forward in its plan to dramatically change the way it goes to market with its storage area network (SAN) products. Under the leadership of Linda Sanford, the recently appointed general manager of the Storage Subsystems Division, IBM has been quietly changing its strategic direction, from a storage systems developer to a provider of fully integrated and tested "solutions."

This is a dramatic change in focus and direction for a division that in the past was measured by its ability to deliver storage components and subsystems to its numerous sister divisions within IBM worldwide, and was not particularly focused on end-to-end solutions. Today, IBM SSD's marching orders are clearer. With the shift of storage to the forefront of IT, fostered by the explosive growth of the e-business market and its insatiable demands for storage on demand, SSD must now provide "best of breed," fully tested SAN configurations for sale by its internal sales organization and external business partners. Two critical components of this new charter are the recently announced "Smart Paks," and the role of IBM's National Testing Center's SAN Interoperability Lab, which opened late last year.

SAN Smart Paks

At PC Expo, IBM rolled out a series of SAN-ready Smart Paks, which combine integrated hardware and software, testing, sizing, and professional services. Each configuration is sized according to the type of SAN application environment in which it will be used.

The first of these Smart Paks supports capabilities such as storage consolidation, data protection, disaster prevention, and data sharing. All Paks include IBM storage devices, such as the recently announced Piranha, Tiger

Shark, and Shark storage servers; Magstar 3590 E Fibre Channel tape system; and Tivoli's SANergy sharing software. The package also includes Fibre Channel infrastructure components from Brocade, Pathlight, and others, and application software such as Tivoli Storage Manager and a suite of management tools. In addition, each Pak comes bundled with professional services required to support integration and testing at customers' sites.

IBM believes that it is addressing the most common requirements for SAN deployments:

  • Storage consolidation. The centralization of storage assets and management for improved efficiencies.
  • Data protection. Off-network backup of server-based data sources to shared resources for maximum protection with minimal operator intervention.
  • Disaster prevention. High-bandwidth mirroring of data to remote sites to support business continuance and regulatory requirements.
  • Data sharing. Shared storage, file systems and files among peers on a departmental or enterprise level.

In the future, additional Smart Paks will be announced based on other emerging SAN application areas.

SAN Lab

IBM is also beefing its SAN interoperability testing efforts. Located in Gaithersburg, MD, the Global Services Testing Center was designed to allow clients to test and evaluate technologies and applications under real-life IT environments, so that clients can reduce the potential risks of failure and accelerate deployment cycles. IBM works hand in hand with clients to conduct tests using actual production data and workloads. Late last year, these capabilities were extended to support SANs.

IBM's SAN Lab, headed up by Craig Gordon, has supported more than 80 client engagements to date. The majority have focused on the measurable impact to operations derived by deploying SAN-based applications such as off-network backup, disk and tape pooling and resource sharing, disaster recovery, etc.

Given the joint announcement by IBM and Compaq regarding reseller agreements and a commitment to partner on SAN technologies and interoperability, IBM's SAN Lab is going to be the preferred venue for clients to test and measure this interoperability. The lab will also be used by both vendors and potential customers to validate the "standards" that result from this partnership. (For more information on the IBM-Compaq agreement, see "IBM and Compaq unite," p. 1.)

Among the major systems vendors, IBM has the dubious honor of having been both last to market and yet first in leadership in many aspects of the emerging SAN marketplace. Although IBM developed the first SANs almost 20 years ago with its ESCON networks, the company has only recently stepped up to the plate in regard to open systems SAN deliverables.

The company's Smart Paks have been designed to overcome two of the major impediments to widespread adoption of SAN technology-tested interoperability and integration. Additionally, IBM's interoperability lab may be ahead of its competitors' labs in supporting true end-to-end testing with real client data sources and heterogeneous hardware environments. This may give IBM an edge in the SAN race, compared to other vendors whose SAN labs are essentially sales tools to support dog and pony shows for prospective SAN customers.

Richard R. Lee is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at Richard.Lee@sanwarriors.com or at (201) 251-6620.


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