RealTime IT News

IBM Aims Virtualization in EMC's Backyard

IBM is looking to grow in the storage virtualization arms race and plans to launch its strategy in storage rival EMC's backyard.

In a Wednesday event titled, "Virtualization Everywhere," IBM storage head Andy Monshaw and his colleagues plan to "showcase the world's most advanced virtualization technologies," according to an IBM spokesperson.

IBM demonstrated virtualization products from its research labs at a similar event in Cambridge last year. But the company refused to disclose more details ahead of this year's event other than to say it plans to unveil its offense against EMC in storage virtualization, as well as outline how storage virtualization fits into IBM's complete systems and technology virtualization strategy.

The words are as bold as the Armonk, N.Y., company's actions. Cambridge, Mass., is roughly 30 miles from EMC's headquarters in Hopkinton, Mass., putting the event squarely in EMC's backyard.

But analysts said IBM has a valid point. Though it bought server virtualization stalwart VMware, EMC does not yet have a comprehensive product for storage virtualization, which allows pools of data to be managed as though it is one large source, in the market.

Big Blue has had two such key products, San Volume Controller (SVC) and San File System (SFS), for a few years. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), the third high-end storage vendor, released its TagmaStore Universal Storage Platform late last year.

EMC is planning to produce its Storage Router virtualization product in the second quarter.

Joe Clabby, an analyst with Summit Strategies, said he imagines IBM will tell the media EMC is leaving customers hanging with regard to storage virtualization, noting that EMC's virtualization work pales in comparison.

"EMC has got VMware, which is for X86-based systems only, and then some virtualization on Centera," Clabby said in a recent interview. "And they've got a plan to push storage virtualization out to the network like IBM has already done with Cisco by putting SVC on Cisco routers."

"IT buyers don't want to buy a storage management package, and then have to buy a separate server management package, and they don't want to be restricted to x86 architecture," Clabby continued. "And they want to make all of their heterogeneous storage look like one logical storage block. And EMC doesn't do that yet. EMC kills them in ILM but from a virtualization Perspective, EMC's sucking wind."

Clabby and Pund-IT Research analyst Charles King said attendees can expect a cohesive server storage management story from IBM.

"This may be the last time IBM will be able to claim EMC has no virtualization solution," King said in an interview. "I think IBM's pitch will be that 'whole systems' virtualization offers significant advantages over storage-specific solutions. Then again, that's the argument you'd expect a systems vendor to make against storage specialists."

"IBM's storage virtualization solutions have had a free run of it up until the last three or four months," King continued. "Now that its two biggest storage competitors are hitting the street with their own stuff, it seems the company is shifting a bit and saying, 'You don't need a storage virtualization solution; what you need is a full systems virtualization.'"

Mark Lewis, an EMC executive vice president who is responsible for bringing the highly anticipated Storage Router to market, said IBM can take its best shot, because EMC is on task and on schedule with the Storage Router.

Storage Router is different from IBM's SVC and HDS' TagmaStore, because it simply routes the data, rather than holds the data within the network, Lewis explained.

"By doing that, we effectively create a system that, for all of the use cases we've described, users don't break anything they currently have," Lewis said.

Lewis continued: "We're trying to create a completely open environment for virtualization, which means A, doing it in software so it can work across all of the switch suppliers, such as Brocade and McData. And B, doing it in a way that doesn't disrupt the existing functionality. By storing data, SVC and TagmaStore corrupt the environment in which they're trying to get installed."

To wit, Lewis said that if what IBM and HDS do is considered true virtualization, Storage Router shouldn't be considered as such because it is so different.

"We're not late to market," Lewis said. "We'll be first to market with the right solution."