Storage Tanked?


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Competition in high-tech can take some pretty funny twists and turns. When IBM first dropped hints of its plans to drop a "Storage Tank" onto the industry a couple of years ago, analysts agreed at the time that it would be a strong assault on competition like HP , EMC , and Hitachi Data Systems .

To be sure, when Linda Sanford, then IBM's vice president and group executive for the storage subsystem group, said in November of 2000 that Storage Tank would be the fix for problems associated with operating a heterogeneous storage network made up of equipment from mixed vendors, the solution appeared to be the Holy Grail for customers.

It meant IBM's system would work freely with products from EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and others that trade in storage infrastructure. It would also mean total interoperability, as Sanford told the public that Storage Tank would bring unity to all the devices used in a storage network, regardless of vendor origin.

But when product managers at those companies saw the way Big Blue presented the finished product a couple of weeks ago, they weren't all that impressed. They called it a large, proprietary file server that seemed geared to compete with smaller storage software and utility computing specialist VERITAS Software , and not the major systems vendors.

So what is this Storage Tank? That was the moniker for technologies developed over the last five to six years in the company's Almaden research facility, but recently it has taken definitive shape in a product called TotalStorage SAN File System, a product designed to let customers share billions of diverse files and to provide one medium of control to manage storage devices and data, as opposed to multiple control points.

In short, IBM would like this product to be the be-all, end-all file system that helps customers better manage their data, which is zipping through the network at multiple points; the bigger the network, the greater the need for something like IBM's new product. But the product doesn't work with just any device or software, as promised a few years ago; it works with Shark hardware and with IBM's AIX version of the Unix operating system, as well as certain Windows operating systems. To be fair, IBM has pledged to offer support for other vendor's products next year.

Bruce Hillsberg, director of storage software strategy and technology at IBM, maintains the point of the SAN File System is to help companies with large data warehousing needs and customers deploying grid computing environments become more competitive by providing an easier way for administrators to manage the massive amounts of data that is stored.

Competitors Focus on Discrepancies Between Promises and Product

Competitors seized upon this gulf between what was promised and what was delivered.

Ken Steinhardt, director of technological analysis at EMC, states the SAN File System is a "far cry from what we expected."

"Their original position in November 2000 was that they had specific plans for an all-encompassing virtual environment that would address every major storage product," Steinhardt told internetnews.com. "But this looks like a proprietary IBM file system that doesn't integrate with third-party storage. Sure, it looks interesting, but it looks different from what was originally announced."

Steinhardt also pointed out that the arrival of the first fruit of Storage Tank comes much later than it was originally announced. "In 2000, they said it was right around the corner, but then the quotes changed. Then it was the end of 2001, and then mid to late 2002. Now here it is, and it's near the end of 2003 and the original announcement has been whittled down to something substantially smaller."

Steinhardt also questioned whether or not the file system is something customers will actually want. "It looks interesting, but would I want a distributed environment that may suffer from latency to go into someone else's storage? You should never try and build a proprietary file system."

Page 2: Analysts See Potential, But Have Questions

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