Taking the Fight to EMC: IBM and NetApp Partner for NAS, iSCSI

Companies hope to blunt the momentum of storage appliance partners EMC and Dell

There’s a history of bad blood between IBM and EMC, and judging by the marketing rhetoric coming out of Armonk last week, things are probably going to get more intense.

So when Big Blue announced a “strategic” reseller, technology sharing, and marketing agreement with storage appliance specialist Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) last week, almost no one was surprised when the two companies announced plans to specifically target EMC.

Under the terms of the agreement, IBM will market custom-branded solutions based on NetApp’s NAS and iSCSI/IP SAN products. These will include the company’s NearStore and NetApp V-Series products, along with a few unspecified software offerings.

Not surprisingly, the accord should also ratchet up integration between NetApp’s storage management software applications and Big Blue’s own Tivoli Storage Manager. For starters, NetApp will recommend IBM’s Tivoli Storage Manager as a preferred backup and recovery solution for all of its products. Given NetApp’s primacy in the market, that’s quite a coup for Big Blue, according to analysts. What’s more, NetApp will position IBM TotalStorage as its preferred provider of tape systems.

IBM and NetApp won’t rule out an expansion of their strategic partnership either. To some extent, of course, where the two partners go from here could depend on what archrival EMC does. IBM officials, for their part, weren't reluctant to take the fight to EMC during last week’s press event. “The choice for customers in the management and storage of information could not be more clear—open solutions from IBM and NetApp that provide systems level innovation versus proprietary point solutions from EMC,” said Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM Storage, in a statement.

NetApp officials, on the other hand, stress another upside to the accord—namely, IBM’s global marketing presence, along with the penetration of its services organization and technology solutions in many Global 2000 accounts.

Veteran industry watchers say the deal is a win-win for both companies. “From a practical standpoint, the agreement allows IBM to significantly expand its NAS and iSCSI portfolios with minimum fuss and muss, and potentially integrate its Tivoli Storage Manager applications with NetApp’s solutions,” says Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT Research. “In addition, the deal provides NetApp easy access to IBM’s well-regarded tape offerings, thus paving the way to delivering highly integrated tiered storage solutions.”

King, too, lauds the combination of IBM’s marketing muscle with NetApp’s NAS know-how, which he says is a coup for NetApp, especially. “The agreement also has strategic ramifications by joining IBM’s muscular systems offerings and global reach with NetApp’s prominence in the NAS/iSCSI markets,” he indicates.

While NetApp officials have shied away from specifically attacking EMC, King speculates that the storage appliance vendor is probably just as concerned about the Hopkington, Mass.-based storage giant as Big Blue. “[T]he partners also share an acknowledged target, EMC, which they mentioned three times in the press release,” he notes, adding that “EMC is making concerted plays in the NAS and iSCSI markets, efforts that interestingly enough, the company’s strategic relationship with Dell is aiding significantly.”

Given IBM’s own successful track record in partnerships past, King thinks the concord could help the two companies blunt the momentum of EMC/Dell. “The companies have worked together in the past and have complementary product portfolios. Both stand to profit from this mutual exercise, especially among enterprises looking to integrate their NAS and SAN environments,” he concludes.

EMC doesn't seem worried. According to spokesman Rob Callery, "EMC sees this OEM agreement between Network Appliance and IBM, which is yet unsigned, as reinforcing IBM's fractured NAS strategy and an admission that it has had virtually no NAS success. NTAP is admitting it can't offer customers a complete tiered storage solution or worldwide support.

"Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how IBM positions two competing virtualization strategies, its own SVC and NetApp's V-Filer, especially given IBM's recent announcement of its 1000th SVC customer."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.