Compaq and IBM Partner on Storage

A new alliance between two leading storage vendors could make untangling the Fibre Channel fray a little easier. Compaq Computer Corp. ( and IBM Corp. ( joined forces to sell and package each other’s storage products, thus leading to comprehensive, interoperable lines of SAN solutions.

"This is going to be really big -- the end of nothing," says Nick Donofrio, senior vice president of technology at IBM. Pointing to the lack of cooperation among storage vendors as a stumbling block to SAN adoption, Donofrio says this partnership will mark an important turnaround.

"[A SAN] has to be interoperable across a heterogeneous environment," Donofrio says. While both IBM and Compaq are huge players in the Wintel market, Compaq also has competencies in the platforms it gained in its acquisition of Digital and IBM markets and maintains a variety of proprietary midrange and mainframe platforms. The two companies will be able to offer comprehensive, cross-platform storage solutions. "Our experiences are absolutely complementary," says Walter Reisner, vice president of marketing and strategy, storage subsystems, at IBM.

"You have to implement storage in a multivendor environment," says Michael Cappellas, CEO at Compaq. Because SANs are composed of a variety of intricate, specialized components, no SAN to date uses products all made by a single company. Cappellas compares the diversity of SAN vendors to the plethora of router, server, and pipe vendors driving the Internet. "In the age of the Internet, no one can do it all," he says.

Through the agreement, Compaq will sell and market IBM’s Shark family of storage servers under its own name. In addition, Compaq will resell software from IBM’s Tivoli division ( to extend and enhance the functionality of Compaq's storage line. Because IBM is permitting Compaq to rebrand IBM hardware, the SAN solutions Compaq sells will appear as a single product from a single vendor.

IBM will offer Compaq’s StorageWorks Modular Array storage systems and software. When software based on Compaq’s VersaStor storage virtualization technology hits the market, IBM will also resell these products.

The two companies also made a $1 billion investment to further the cause of SAN interoperability.

Nick Allen, analyst at GartnerGroup Inc. (, believes the companies initially began talking about OEM possibilities, but expanded the partnership for interoperability. Guaranteeing mutual interoperability is beneficial to both companies, but Allen suggests that the partnership may hold particular advantages for Compaq. "They really have no experience in systems management," he says.

The companies’ initial goal is to ensure that any storage product from either company will work with any other storage product. Reisner says IBM hopes that the partnership will pave the way to industrywide any-to-any interoperability. He hopes Big Blue will be able to leverage the partnership in SAN industry organizations such as the Storage Networking Industry Alliance (SNIA, -- "We want to come back to the negotiating table to establish standards," he says.

"It’s difficult to push standards to market," Reisner says, adding that storage vendors interested in serving customers and prospering in the SAN space should make business decisions with an eye toward interoperability.

Gartner's Allen agrees: "The user gets a lot more choices that way." Large vendors taking steps toward interoperability speed the adoption of standards, he explains. "The standards making process is usually accelerated when one vendor leads far ahead of the pack."