IBM Bets $400 Million on Future of SANs

IBM recently kicked off a new initiative to expand and strengthen its position in the growing storage area network (SAN) market, as more and more companies look for new ways to manage the massive amounts of data being generated by e-business practices.Big Blue announced a $400 million program which will include new products, services, global and regional testing facilities and sales support designed to take advantage of the growing demand for open-standard storage solutions.

IBM director of SAN marketing Jill Kaplan says the program is the culmination of a series of SAN-related announcements IBM began rolling out last June, adding that this latest effort represents the decision by IBM to make a “substantial investment” in SAN sales and development. As part of the initiative, IBM plans to establish more than 50 centers worldwide dedicated to developing and marketing SAN solutions, and will add 1,000 new storage product specialists to its sales force. In addition, IBM Global Services will offer a number of new services for customers looking to implement SANs or other storage systems. These include planning and design, enterprise storage assessment, SAN testing facilities and expanded support.

Kaplan says she believes IBM has an automatic advantage over other vendors competing in the SAN space because of its experience providing a broad product package—including hardware, software and services—for other technologies.

“Our objective with these announcements has really been to build a diverse portfolio of SAN offering from IBM Corporation,” Kaplan says. “I feel that we’re coming from a very strong place having already provided these kinds of services in other markets.”

Colin Rankine, senior analyst at GIGA Information Group (Cambridge, Mass.), says although Storage Area Networks have recently emerged as a hot trend, consumer interest in high-level storage solutions has existed for some time.

“This is one of those industry events where the hype and the fanfare was way ahead of the actual deliverables,” he says. “From a conceptual perspective it’s been around for three or four years, but from a development perspective it is pretty new.”

The primary reason SAN implementation hasn’t caught up with demand, Rankine says, is that a lack of interoperability exists between the hardware devices and software that companies would hope to use in conjunction with a storage network. Most of the solutions currently being offered are prepackaged “SAN in a can,” he says, and are difficult to configure for a multiplatform environment. An organization’s infrastructure might include servers, hubs, switches, disk storage, tapes, software, etc., and all can be from different vendors. While many executives see advantages in implementing a storage network, the idea of completely reconstructing their system architecture is discouraging.

“There are significant interoperability issues … making sure all the piece part applications you have fit together,” Rankine says. “Limitations in the open systems world … have prohibited some shops from abandoning their technological infrastructure. So it’ll take some time—there’s a certain amount of inertia people have to have; they’re not just going to turn over their entire server inventory overnight.”

Enhanced Shark software can be added to the new Shark models, which will allow advanced copy services and native fibre channel connectivity.
Kaplan says IBM made it a priority for its SAN-related products to be compatible with open standards, “to make sure the investments our customers make today are good investments for the future.”

On the product front, as part of this initiative IBM will be releasing new models of its Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), or Shark. Enhanced Shark software can be added to the new Shark models, which will allow advanced copy services and native fibre channel connectivity. IBM is also offering a number of enhanced products to better facilitate SAN connectivity across an enterprise.

Rankine says IBM is not simply increasing its support for SANs to further the success of Shark, which was released last year to help IBM better compete with EMC in the storage server market. He cited the new initiative’s emphasis on education and consulting and on open standards compatibility as evidence of IBM’s interest in promoting SANs in general, not just its own hardware.

“I think they’re sincere about making storage networking a stand-alone initiative,” he says. “That’s the thing I find attractive about IBM, is they are willing to develop in multiplatform environments.”

While that strategy may be good for customers, however, Rankine is not so sure it will be entirely helpful to IBM, which he believes is losing innovative ground to competitors in areas such as fibre channel connectivity.

“You’ve got to give them religion, but then you have to get them into your church,” Rankine says. “So education is good, but from a stockholder perspective I think maybe they should concentrate more on product, because they have fallen behind.” In order for SANs to be a realistic and useful option for businesses, Rankine says, there will have to be a variety of vendors producing systems-management products. For AS/400 users, Rankine believes the problem of adequate product offerings is even more acute, because the platform is barely “on vendors’ radar screen.”

Kaplan says it is not a lack of tools prohibiting the adoption of SANs in the AS/400 market, she believes it is instead a lack of demand. Currently, IBM supports SAN on AS/400 through SCSI connections. She says if more AS/400 customers express an interest in SAN capability, IBM will pursue it more strongly.

“A lot of things we’re seeing with SAN today is really a question of urgency of what is needed, what is available today,” Kaplan says. “When I see the customer demand for SAN, I see it is more of an NT or a Unix environment looking to get to the kind of performance they get with an AS/400.

“AS/400 has always been so customer-focused. I talk to an AS/400 person, and they say ‘Once it starts showing up in our customers focus groups and becomes a priority, then we’ll start looking at it.’ But for now they’d rather focus on those other applications that seem to be more of a priority for their users.”

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    Related Information:

  • IBM Storage Area Network Page (new window)