IBM delivers on SVC promise

Supports full line of EMC disk arrays

By Heidi Biggar

In adding support for EMC’s complete line of CLARiiON CX disk arrays to its SAN Volume Controller (SVC) virtualization software, analysts say IBM has taken one small step for storage networking and one giant step for users.

IBM has made it possible for users to leverage, manage, and move data among a wide variety of IBM and non-IBM storage arrays, including EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and Hitachi Data Systems, in a storage environment. This has potentially huge benefits from a performance, service, and cost standpoint, according to analysts.

“This is a milestone in the storage virtualization market,” says Tony Asaro, senior analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group’s Lab. “It is a way to reduce cost and complexity in storage networks.” In fact, ESG believes that storage virtualization, which is still in its early stages, will ultimately re-invent storage networking as we know it today.

The idea is to use IBM’s SVC, or other vendors’ virtualization technologies, to “unlock” the “lock” that vendors have placed on disk arrays and, in doing so, drive total cost of ownership (TCO) down and serviceability up.

Explains Ron Riffe, manager of software strategy at IBM: “One of our SVC customers [a large financial institution] had deliberately put in multi-vendor storage [HP EVA and EMC Symmetrix/DMX)] to reduce costs and improve service levels, [but] because of vendor ‘locks’ had been unable to truly mix the platforms and therefore was having difficulty realizing some of the benefits of a heterogeneous storage environment.”

Specifically, Riffe says that the financial institution wasn’t able to leverage EMC multi-pathing (i.e., PowerPath) or copy services (e.g., TimeFinder or SRDF) capabilities in the HP environment and that it was pretty much restricted to an HP/Windows and EMC/Unix setup.

By implementing SVC, says Riffe, the organization was able to leverage the EMC software across the entire storage environment (e.g., use SRDF to replicate between Symmetrix and EVA systems) while putting itself in a better bargaining positioning with both vendors.

Although the First National Bank of Omaha isn’t using SVC to virtualize EMC storage, its situation is also illustrative of the benefits of the SVC technology and, as shown above, can be applied to a mixed disk environment with EMC storage.

The bank has been using SVC to pool approximately 30TB of storage on IBM Enterprise Storage Server (ESS) and Hitachi Thunder disk arrays since June. By virtualizing its disk environment, it was able to centralize management, which meant lower TCO, among other things.

While IBM is not the only vendor to offer this type of virtualization capability, it appears to have the most momentum. In-band virtualization products are also available from smaller vendors such as DataCore (SANSymphony) and FalconStor (IPStor) as well as from more-established players such as Hitachi Data Systems (TagmaStore Universal Store Platform) and Sun Microsystems, which resells the TagmaStore product under the StorEdge 9990 label. Sun also sells its own midrange virtualization product, the StorEdge 6920.

EMC is expected to announce its virtualization technology (a.k.a. Storage Router) in the second half of next year (see “EMC focuses on ILM,” InfoStor, June 2004, p. 19).

A recent survey conducted by TheInfoPro (TIP) industry research firm reveals increasing end-user interest in in-band virtualization products in general, with particular “buzz” around IBM’s SVC. (TheInfoPro conducts bi-annual surveys of Fortune 1000 and mid-market companies in North America and Europe.)

Thirteen percent of respondents (n=143) to the most recent TIP survey said they were currently considering IBM’s SVC, while only 5% of respondents to the previous survey (n=144) said they were currently considering IBM software.

As an indicator of its overall importance among users, in-band virtualization technology received a score of “77” in the most recent “TIP Heat Index.” It only registered a “35” in TIP’s previous survey. The TIP Heat Index measures users’ plans to implement various storage networking and storage management technologies.

But the ultimate “sellability” of fabric-based virtualization products such as IBM’s SVC hinges on the ability to support almost any storage system, says Randy Kerns, principal with the Evaluator Group consulting firm. “If a system only permits a very limited number of storage systems to be attached, the market will be limited,” he says.

IBM is also betting that SVC will help it gain market share, in particular from archrival EMC. “We have almost a maniacal focus on taking back share from EMC,” says IBM’s Riffe.

According to a recent report from International Data Corp. (IDC), EMC continues to lead both the external disk storage and storage management software markets (in terms of revenue), with 21.2% and 31.8% market share in the third quarter of 2004, respectively. This compares to IBM, which had a 13.1% and 7.1% market share, respectively, in the same period (see figure).

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ESG’s Asaro believes that IBM’s success with SVC is essential for IBM to gain market share.

IBM reportedly has more than 1,000 SVC customers worldwide, of which 800 are reportedly in full production. IBM began shipping the SVC appliance in July 2003 and intelligent switch implementation (SVC for Cisco MDS 9000 switches) in December 2003. These two products initially supported IBM disk storage only. Support for non-IBM disk arrays, including some EMC platforms, was announced last year.

This article was originally published on January 01, 2005