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IBM Runs and Guns for EMC Customers

IBM resumed its aggressive positioning against rival EMC by making its storage management software run on EMC hardware.

Describing the maneuver as a "silver bullet" for the storage management sector, Big Blue said IBM TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller, which allows users to virtualize storage to manage multiple devices and free up capacity in their storage area networks, (SAN) can now pool data from IBM and EMC machines.

IBM's TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller Version 1.2, which already supports rival products from HP and Hitachi Data Systems, can now manage EMC's CLARiiON and Symmetrix lines of storage hardware.

Bruce Hillsberg, director of storage software strategy at IBM, said the idea to interoperate with EMC hardware came from consumers who he said have dual procurement strategies and mixed environments.

"They're looking for ways to simplify and get better asset utilization out of what they already have," said Hillsberg, who told internetnews.com customers can stripe, migrate, and reallocate data without affecting host applications, allowing the capacity rebalancing to more efficiently use the storage they already have installed.

The executive noted that beginning April 30 the product will support new and older operating systems, including Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Microsoft Clustering, Solaris 8 and 9, HP-UX, Red Hat Enterprise Server 2.1 and 3.0, and VMware EX 2.1.

The strategic play is also a move by the Armonk, N.Y., company to drive a wedge between EMC and its customers by offering choice that few in the industry could have imagined before; fierce rivals, EMC and IBM rarely share or open up technology secrets for fear of giving an edge to the other.

But now customers, which have had to separate their EMC equipment from their other storage devices, can shuttle data throughout systems such as IBM's TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server ("Shark") or EMC's Symmetrix lines without worrying about the usual incompatibilities.

Though he agreed IBM's move was designed to pick off EMC customers by offering more choice, Sageza Group Research Director Charles King told internetnews.com the seeds of this upgrade were planted when EMC and IBM inked a rare interoperability pact last October to exchange management interfaces.

"Frankly, it's something IBM needs to do," King said. "In looking at the most recent quarterly earnings announcement, this is the third or fourth earnings announcement in a row where IBM's main storage growth has been attributed to their [midrange] FastT and tape products. Shark is nowhere to be seen. About a year and a half ago, IBM talked about the importance of Shark for IBM's growth strategy. I haven't seen anything in the quarterly announcements about that."

King also said that in a sector where heterogeneity is lauded, IBM needed to open up its Volume Controller as part of its strategy to explain why its storage products are fine for non-IBM environments.

IDC Storage Director Rick Villars agreed.

"I think it was something that they were getting some pressure on to deliver on," Villars told internetnews.com. "The value of the SAN Volume Controller is to allow heterogeneous control in storage and if it can't connect to a major vendor's products, it has less power."

The offensive rekindles a long-standing battle between Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC and IBM, which has been quiet over the last several months as EMC consumed a few major companies, including Legato Systems, Documentum, and VMware, to build out its ILM portfolio.

Friday's news is foreshadowing for a broader competitive battle IBM expects to wage with EMC. Big Blue will hold an event in Boston -- essentially EMC's backyard -- next month to discuss its storage plans going forward, as well as details for its offensive against EMC.