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IBM's Data Storage as Fast as a 'Shark'

IBM Corp. Tuesday unveiled breakthrough storage products in its quest to gain market share from storage standby EMC Corp., which has had its troubles in recent months.

Big Blue plans to roll out a fiber channel-based connection (FICON) for customers' high-end disk systems, under the belt of its TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server, or "Shark", as well as two new models of the IBM TotalStorage Virtual Tape Server (VTS). Taken together, these technologies and products should increase the amount of data that customers can store, but will also speed up data transfer.

With FICON, Shark can ramp up data transfer rates to 100 megabytes per second (Mbps), compared with the 17 Mbps per second performance of the current standard Enterprise Systems Connection (ESCON), a mainframe standard created by Big Blue in 1990. IBM also enhanced Shark with the availability of a 24-gigabyte (GB) cache (as opposed to 8-, 16- or 32-bit) for increased flexibility.

When used with Shark, IBM offers a FICON storage solution which enhances performance, distance, and sharing, and reduces infrastructure costs by allowing multiple ESCON channels to be replaced with a single FICON channel. Basically, with FICON-based storage for mainframes customers may connect mainframes directly to the same storage area networks (SANs) used by UNIX and Windows/NT servers. While there isn't total interoperability, a common SAN infrastructure can ease the administration of storage networks and enable customers to modify their requirements based on what their businesses call for.

"FICON will deliver a significant boost to the performance of many mainframe applications," said John McArthur, vice president of storage research for IDC.

"As more and more enterprise customers are using Windows and Unix, we are trying to address their requirements," Chris Saul, marketing program manager for IBM's enterprise storage group, told InternetNews.com. "Mainframe customers will be able to share storage without needing all sorts of separate fibers and switches."

IBM's advantage, some analysts feel, is that it is the first to bring such a solution to market; it's due to hit the racks in September. John Webster, an analyst with research firm Illuminata, told InternetNews.com that IBM's move to bring FICON to the table will keep the rival wolves at bay for bit, but that EMC and Hitachi would probably make aggressive moves to counter Big Blue.

"IBM will have an advantage for the period of time in which EMC [and others] cannot deliver similar solutions to customers," Webster said. "I think IBM's customer base will find that this an attractive solution. Customers demand mainframe solutions and it's been a while since IBM refreshed their channel protocols."

As for the new virtual tape systems, the products are the first of their kind to be powered by the technology titan's copper chip technology, effectively doubling storage performance. Copper, in lieu of silicon, lowers power requirements and reduces total cost of ownership.

The two new TotalStorage Virtual Tape Server (VTS) models, the B10 and B20, are the first storage tape drive products to utilize IBM's copper chip technology, which has been used in the firm's hardware servers aplenty. The VTS tape servers are fitted with IBM's PowerPC microprocessors, which are smaller, denser, faster and cooler than their aluminum brothers.

As for the top competition it guns for, EMC Corp., it is thought that the Hopkinton,Mass.-based firm will be pressed on growth, margins and pricing at analyst meetings this week.