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Storage Blues…

January not even out yet and already we have an interesting technology market happening; IBM’s withdrawal from the x86 server market does lead to a number of questions. Both on the future of IBM but also on what IBM feel the future of the market is; yet could this be another market that they withdraw from only to long-term regret as they did with the network market allowing Cisco to dominate?

IBM’s piecemeal withdrawal from the hardware market; a retreat to the highlands of the legacy enterprise market in hardware will lead to questions across the board as to what the future is for any IBM hardware. I am not sure of the market acceptance of their converged compute/network/storage strategy in the form of PureSystems; their me-too ‘Block’ offering but surely this is dead-duck now; Lenovo may continue to make the x86 components for IBM but how committed can we feel that IBM is to this. IBM appear to have completely ceded this space to their competitors; personally I’m not convinced by most of the converged offerings and the value but to completely cede a market seems to be rash.

But how does this impact IBM storage?

The heart of IBM’s Storwize product set is x86-based servers; SVC especially was ‘just’ an IBM server. IBM were one of the first companies who really leveraged the idea of the server as storage; Shark is and was simply a pair of RS/6000 or pSeries boxes, this has allowed them to utilise and share R&D across divisions. Something which should have been an advantage and enabled them to do some clever stuff; this stuff  they demonstrated yet never delivered.

Now there is no reason for them to simply source the servers from others, the same as almost every other storage company in the world and it moves the Storwize product set firmly into the realms of software (it was anyway) but will IBM move Storwize to a software-only product?

There is part of me who really feels that this is inevitable, it may be as a reaction to a move by a competitor; it may be as a move to enable a vV7000 to run as a cloud appliance? It may well end up being the only way that IBM can maintain any kind of foothold in the storage market.

No I haven’t forgotten XIV or IBM’s Flash offerings; XIV is a solid Tier 1.5 offering but it is also a collection of servers. XIV’s issue is really scalability and simply putting larger drives in is just reducing the IOP density. The Flash offering is as good as many and if you want raw performance without features; it is worth considering.

IBM’s GSS could be built into something which scales and with many of the ‘features’ of XIV. And in a software only IBM Storage strategy; it could develop into a solid product if some of the dependency on specific disk controllers could be relaxed. Yet the question has to be whether IBM has time.

And yet without either a scalable NAS or Object store; IBM have some real problems. None of which are are really hardware problems but moving away from building your base platform probably makes none of them easier to solve.

Or perhaps if they concentrate on software and services….

  • Hans De Leenheer

    To the nay-sayers: IBM is a slow beast but historically has taken smart decisions, ending up the only player in history being an A-brand that is still alive and ‘kicking’. Splitting their laptop business to Lenovo was a very smart choice. It hasn’t hurt IBM as such and it did well under Lenovo.

    I can imagine the x86 going the same route under Lenovo as the server business is actively shifting from the A-vendors to the low margin manufacturers (Super Micro / Quanta).

    The storage business could go the same route. As everything (a lot) is shifting to a software model (SDS) it’s up to the smart A-brands to take advantage of this as soon as possible. The hardware appliances of tomorrow could very well end up being the mainframes of today and the sooner IBM makes the right decision here, the better chance they will still be around in 30 years.

    • Chris M Evans

      I think IBM’s decision to sell of their server business is more an issue for them in terms of competitive advantage on other platforms. SVC/StorWize isn’t strong enough as a standalone software solution. It doesn’t scale and the management granularity is poor (no decent RBAC).

      Why did EMC/Vmware and HP go down the route of converged systems? Because it took us back to the mainframe days of lockin. If you don’t fully own the components, how can you tightly integrate them without sharing details with competitors?

      HP will tighten their integration further and take us to a more mainframe like environment. I suspect VCE is due for a reboot and the same thing will happen there. IBM become nothing more than an SI with no added value.

      Without the ability to bundle, IBM’s storage business will fade away. Let’s face it, DS8000 series ONLY exists because IBM bundles it with the mainframe otherwise you just wouldn’t bother.

      • leo_leung

        It doesn’t seem like IBM can or wants to compete head-to-head on product with the EMCs and NetApps. They can however play multiple flavors of storage outsourcing, from fully managed on-premises to (not yet) fully self-service cloud, and actually make money. Storage outsourcing is a measure of last resort for all the storage pure plays, but not IBM.

        I’m not sure that the sale of the x86 business is necessarily an indicator of IBM’s storage strategy, but I think it would be very smart of them to embrace a storage software strategy where the go-to-market is service-led (of every flavor). I wonder how many enterprises really want to continue to buy, host and manage their own storage over the next 3-5 years?

  • Barry Whyte

    (Disclaimer – I work for IBM in the SVC and Storwize development team)

    I originally posted this on the Register copy of your post Martin :

    SVC is a software product and always has been – its part of IBM’s Tivoli group, the Storage Software Group – but all software needs some hardware to run on.

    We’ve looked many times at running SVC software on anything, but the main reasons we don’t do this are performance and reliability. You need to guarantee certain performance levels, certain response time aspects, and ensure you can report when something has gone wrong. For now, thats why SVC software runs on specific SystemX hardware, and the Storwize controllers.

    At the end of the day, just like Printers, Disk Drives, Laptops, POS, and now x86 hardware, these all become commodity items, that a vendor who is geared up to produce millions of them, and has routes to marked for the masses are in a much better position than IBM to increase sale and make profit.

    Storage is still a growth area, and IBM has some great technology in SVC and XIV that have proved they can scale and grow with customers right from small 12 disk systems to many tens or hundreds of petabytes.

    All Storwize product hardware is based on x86_64 hardware, but its custom built planars to fit in the form factors needed, and had no SystemX components. XIV is a custom “storage rich server” that again has no SystemX components. Only SVC used a vanilla (with a little metal-bending) SystemX platform, and more often than not, some of the server components just got in our way – like IMM’s service processors and the like. With the sale of SystemX, yes we could goto Lenovo in the future and get a standard server from them, or anyone else, or we could tender for a specific server planar that has just the bits we want, and none of the bits that get in the way, or cause additional development to work around.

    SVC software has run on over 15 platforms in the last 10 years – including MIPs – so the actual base hardware is almost irrelevant to us.

    All that said, the roadmap for SVC and Storwize is rosey, growth is meeting target and some of the exciting things we are working on at the moment will take the bar to the next level.