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Can Pachyderms Polka?

Chris’ pieces on IBM’s storage revenues here and here make for some interesting reading. Things are not looking great with the exception of XIV and Storwize products. I am not sure if Chris’ analysis is entirely correct as it is hard to get any granularity from IBM. But it doesn’t surprise me either; there are some serious weaknesses in IBM’s storage portfolio.

Firstly, there is still an awful lot of OEMed kit from NetApp in the portfolio; it certainly appears that this is not selling or being as sold as well as it was in the past. So IBM’s struggles have some interesting knock-on to NetApp.

IBM are certainly positioning the Storwize products in the space which was traditionally occupied by the OEMed LSI (now NetApp) arrays; pricing is pretty aggressive and places them firmly in the space occupied by other competing dual-head arrays. And they finally have a feature set to match their competitors, well certainly in the block space. .

XIV seems to compete pretty well when put up against the lower-end VMAX and HDS ‘enterprise-class’ arrays. It is incredibly easy to manage, performs well enough but is not the platform for the most demanding applications. But IBM have grasped one of the underlying issues with storage today; that is it all needed to be simplified. I still have some doubts about the architecture but XIV have tried to solve the spindle-to-gigabyte issue. There is no doubt in my mind that traditional RAID-5 and 6 are long term broken. If not today, very soon. The introduction of SSDs into the architecture appears to have removed some of the more interesting performance characteristics of the architecture. XIV is a great example of ‘good enough’.

So IBM have some good products from the low-end to the lowish-enterprise block space. Of course, there is an issue in that they seriously overlap; nothing new there though, I’ve never known a company compete against itself so often.

DS8K only really survives for one reason; that is to support the mainframe. If IBM had been sensible and had the foresight to do so; they would have looked at FiCon connectivity for SVC and done it. Instead IBM decided that the mainframe customers were so conservative that they would never accept a new product or at least it would have taken 10 years or so for them to do so. So now they are going to end-up building and supporting the DS8K range for another 10 years at least; if they’d invested the time earlier, they could be considering sunsetting the DS8K.

But where IBM really, really suffer and struggle is in the NAS space. They’ve had abortive attempts at building their own products;  they re-sell NetApp in the form of nSeries these days and also have SONAS/V7000-Unified. Well the nSeries is NetApp; it gets all of the advantages and disadvantages that brings i.e a great product whose best days seem behind it at present.

SONAS/V7000-Unified are not really happening for IBM; although built on solid foundations, the delivery has not been there and IBM really have no idea how to market or sell the product. There have been some quality issues and arguably the V7000-Unified was rushed and not thought all the way through. I mean who thought a two node GPFS cluster was ever a good idea for a production system.

And that brings me onto my favourite IBM storage product; GPFS. The one that I will laud to the hills; a howitzer of a product which will let you blow your feet off but also could be IBM’s edge. Yet in the decade and a bit that I have been involved with it; IBM almost never sells it. Customers buy it but really you have to know about it; most IBM sales would have no idea where to start and even when it might be appropriate.

At the GPFS User Group this week, I saw presentations on GPFS with OpenStack, Hadoop, hints of object-storage and more. But you will probably never hear an IBMer outside of a very select bunch talk about it. If IBM were EMC, you’d never hear them shut-up about it.

One of the funniest things I heard at the GPFS User Group were the guys who repurposed an Isilon cluster as a GPFS cluster. It seems it might work very well.

I personally think it’s about time that IBM open-sourced GPFS and put it into the community. It’s to good not too and perhaps the community could turn it into the core of a software-defined-storage solution to shake a few people. I could build half-a-dozen interesting appliances tomorrow.

Still I suspect like Cinderella, GPFS will be stuck in the kitchen waiting for an invite to the ball.

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