Big Blue Returns to Disk Storage Market

After several years of rebranding products built by StorageTek Corp., IBM unveiled its Enterprise Storage Server product and foreshadowed its plans for future incarnations of the product.

IBM Corp. renewed its presence in the high-end disk storage market in a big way. After several years of rebranding products built by StorageTek Corp. (www.storagetek.com), IBM unveiled its Enterprise Storage Server product and foreshadowed its plans for future incarnations of the product.

The Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), built under the code name Shark, is the flagship of the company’s line of open hardware and software solutions for enterprise storage and data management.

IBM will sell ESS even though its contract with StorageTek remains in place until year-end 2000, says Jack Scott, managing director at the Evaluator Group Inc. (www.evaluatorgroup.com), an analysis firm specializing in storage.

IBM is positioning ESS as an e-business storage system. The system is based on IBM’s Seascape architecture -- the company’s blueprint for storage systems -- which also incorporates the company’s storage area network (SAN) strategy announced in June.

"The Seascape architecture allows us to integrate new technologies into the product, and to change out old technologies as they are no longer useful," says Chris Saul, an enterprise disk systems consultant at IBM.

One of the strengths of ESS is an ability to work in heterogeneous environments with S/390, Unix, Windows NT and AS/400 hosts. The machine also accommodates a range of interfaces, including Enterprise System Connection (ESCON), Fibre Channel, Ultra SCSI and Fiber Connector (FICON), which is an S/390 adapter.

The storage server, built on two four-way SMP RISC processors, is designed to scale from 420 GB to 11 TB without having to be taken offline. ESS also supports three disk drive capacities: 9 GB, 18 GB, and 36 GB.

To further boost performance, the product’s Priority I/O Queuing ensures that important applications have priority access to storage resources, while Multiple Allegiance enables different operating systems to perform multiple, concurrent I/Os to the same logical volume.

"ESS brings features to NT that were previously only available on high-end machines," Saul adds.

Among these are IBM’s Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy and FlashCopy. Peer-to-Peer takes individual volumes and copies them to another storage server. This function is primarily used for disaster recovery, but it can also be used to bring volumes off of a network for testing purposes.

FlashCopy duplicates drives almost instantly, according to IBM. Depending on the size, entire drives -- as large as 200 GBs -- can be copied in two to five seconds. This feature eliminates the need to stop applications for extended periods of time to perform backups and restores.

IBM’s 18-month road map for ESS includes adding native Fibre Channel support through a SAN data gateway in the first quarter of next year. Later, IBM plans to implement a virtual disk architecture to perform hardware compression: This will help customers gain two to three times the amount of disk space without adding new disks. Other forthcoming improvements include faster processors and higher-capacity disk drives.

Despite the lineup of specifications, features and plans for the future, the Evaluator Group’s Scott is a bit skeptical.

"[IBM’s] track record is not that great on delivering these kinds of products in a timely fashion," he says.

But Dick Bannister, a colleague of Scott’s and a senior partner at the Evaluator Group, points out that IBM, at the least, has created a great deal of potential for itself.

"If IBM is steadfast about putting a number of improvements into this and rolling out products in the SAN arena, and if it keeps up this tempo, it will have a major impact on the market," he says. "IBM has a platform with the ESS that can challenge its competitors."