Storage Vendors Feeding Frenzy

IBM: Rumors of Shark’s Performance Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Despite recent published rumors suggesting performance failures, IBM’s highly touted Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), or Shark, as it is more widely known, is exceeding sales expectations—including in the AS/400 market—representatives of Big Blue told MIDRANGE Systems recently.

“The whole reason that story was even generated was because EMC is feeling some heat from IBM and Shark where it hasn’t felt any pressure before,” says Clint Roswell, public relations program manager for IBM’s enterprise systems group, referring to a recent industry magazine article.

The story cited complaints by some customers that Shark suffered performance problems when it reached storage amounts of one to two terabytes, despite IBM’s claim that the server is designed to accommodate up to 11.2 terabytes.

IBM says the report is, in a word, false, according to Tim Dallman of IBM media relations. In fact, the company contends, the product is not only living up to the hype that preceded its introduction last July, Shark is surpassing it. IBM has sold more than 1,500 units in less than five months, with a client base that includes more than half of the Fortune 100. Seventy percent of the sales have gone to users of open systems on many different platforms and operating systems, including Windows NT, Unix, Novell NetWare and Sun platforms, in addition to S/390 and AS/400 servers.

Dave Hill, research director, storage and storage management at Aberdeen Group, also says that concerns over Shark’s performance reliability are unfounded. He cites as evidence one of his clients running a Shark server with an AS/400 and RS/6000, who has reported being happily surprised with its performance.

“Installation and set-up went very smoothly for that customer,” Hill says. “In fact, he even added 300 gigabytes of data with only a half hour of downtime, which he thought was very reasonable for the amount of work that needed to be done.”

While specific figures were not available, Dallman said sales of Shark among AS/400 users has “far exceeded expectations.” This comes as no surprise to Hill, who says an IBM storage server appeals to AS/400 customers who recognize that their storage needs are rapidly increasing, but who wish to stay within their familiar IBM framework.

“Historically, AS/400 users are very familiar and very comfortable with IBM storage, so IBM might fit a niche now with Shark,” Hill explains. “Organizations are finding that their storage needs are growing whether they’re large or small, and that affects AS/400 as much as anybody.”

According to Roswell, IBM is hoping Shark will allow the company to position itself to take the lead in the growing field of Storage Area Networks (SAN). Gearing ESS toward open standards is the key to making the product fit that design.

“A lot of our customers are looking at these server products and they’re saying, ‘Someday down the road we’re going to want to go to the SANs.’ … Shark is geared toward open standards for that reason,” Roswell says. “We made a mistake in losing some territory in the storage area to EMC, and we’re not going to make that mistake with SAN.”

Whether IBM can realistically compete with EMC on a large scale, however, remains to be seen. While Roswell contends that one distinct advantage of ESS is its potential to fit into the SAN model, Hill agrees that SAN compatibility is a critical factor in Shark’s future as a viable competitor, but adds that will not be what sets it apart from its rivals.

“SAN’s a very important word today,” he says. “Shark fits very well into that, but so does EMC and everyone else. SAN’s not a differentiator.”

ERP, CRM and SCM environments are causing companies to require their systems to retain a lot more data, and demand for greater storage capacity will only increase. Therefore, Hill believes, the market for high-end storage servers is likely to remain strong. This trend has not gone unrecognized in the industry, however, and as a result IBM will have to worry about competing with more than just EMC. Whoever those competitors are, they will have to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the platform to stay in the pack.

“Demand for storage is going up for a number of reasons, whether it be EMC or CRM or other sorts of internal processes,” Hill says. “EMC is a solid product, and that’s not going to change. …EMC is still king of the hill and IBM and others would like to challenge EMC, and that’s going to depend largely on their product roadmap, how much commitment they show in where they plan on taking the product.”

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