Is a SAN Storm Blowing at IBM?

IBM’s Storage Area Network (SAN) initiative, launched in March to the tune of $400 million, offers customers a seamless way to consolidate storage of business-critical data. Recently brought under the wing of IBM’s Enterprise Systems Group, SAN is gaining closer synergy with other divisions, and positioning itself as a key component in the company’s overall strategy.

For example, IBM’s Global Services Division has stepped in, to provide SAN consulting, set-up, education and training, and even process management, if requested. Such add-on resources represent a significant step toward a future goal of Big Blue’s – to provide one common capability of storing data that all servers can access.

A SAN needs to be a centrally managed, secure, dedicated information infrastructure for e-business applications. It enables “any-to-any” interconnection of servers and storage systems. SANs build on an approach to data storage management pioneered by IBM close to 30 years ago, in the S/390 environment. IBM has an additional advantage: About 70 percent of all global corporate data is managed by IBM software, making it a database market leader.

Using Fibre Channel technology, SANs provide high-speed access to shared data storage pools, via remote workstations and servers. This new, latest thrust is a move into distributed network environments, i.e. network computing.

IBM has been rolling out its latest Open SAN strategy in phases. With the March announcement, more than 50 SAN Solution Centers are being established with IBM business partners worldwide; New SAN testing facilities are being opened; IBM’s storage solutions sales force has been strengthened by the addition of more than 1,000 additional sales specialists: A new fibre channel-based SAN solution, and new models of the “Shark” Enterprise Storage Server, have been added to the mix. And on April 4, IBM and Tivoli announced Tivoli LAN-free SAN management software for the SAN network, to allow information sharing across different application programs, servers, and storage devices.

These are just first steps. And while they don’t represent a be-all, end-all solution, I see these latest moves as a laudable way to show customers that there are faster, easier solutions to data sharing, storing and consolidation.

Duane Deuker, vice president of Storage Area Networks for IBM, cites other potential benefits, such as enhanced data integrity, centralized resource management, and universal access, anywhere, anytime. He also points to reduced costs, as customers eliminate storage redundancies once they leave multiple storage platforms behind.

IBM is clearly putting muscle behind its efforts. This spring, IBM opened SAN Interoperability Centers in Germany and France. A similar facility is planned for Japan later this year. Furthermore, IBM’s 50 new SAN solutions centers represent a clear boost to business partners, who will have additional platforms to demonstrate SAN capabilities.It’s clear that IBM has set out to address challenges posed by unpredictable IT growth – and more specifically, by the dramatic growth in business data volume. With successful e-business comes a need by companies to manage and exchange that vast pool of information, immediately and securely. Thus, storage systems are becoming strategic enterprise tools in their own right.

It’s true that higher-performance storage systems are continually being developed; but for the most part, they remain costly, complex and expensive to employ. Worse, many remain single platform, restricting data access across the network. So much of IBM’s innovation seeks to reconnect with an old-fashioned notion: simplicity. Better technology made easier to use.

As we all know, the modern business environment is undergoing tremendous change. And competitors in the storage industry, such as Compaq, EMC, Sun, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, and others, are in a hurry to grab mind share by rapidly introducing new technologies to fix data management problems.

IBM has missed other opportunities to catapult ahead in the exploding e-business market. I know it doesn’t want to miss out on this one. So with all the muscle it can muster, IBM hopes not to let this revenue and profit opportunity slip away.

IBM’s success in this area is vital to its overall revenue and profit growth. It knows it and appears to be committed to winning all the marbles!

Sam Albert is president of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.) a consulting firm specializing in developing strategic corporate relationships.

Related Editorial:

  • IBM Bets $400 Million on Future of SANs

    Related Information:

  • IBM Storage Area Network Page