IBM enlists former EMC engineering head to help win storage wars

Acquisition of storage vendor XIV brings Symmetrix architect to IBM

The man who built EMC's Symmetrix storage systems will now help IBM try to one-up rival EMC's technology. IBM on Wednesday announced the acquisition of Israeli storage vendor XIV, and the company's chairman is Moshe Yanai, who was EMC's head of engineering and the chief architect behind Symmetrix, a key part of EMC's success.

"Mr. Yanai becoming an IBM employee is analogous to a former Boston Red Sox star player joining the New York Yankees," wrote analysts Charles King of Pund-IT and David Hill of the Mesabi Group in a piece dissecting the acquisition. "Yanai's unmatched reputation gives a world of credibility to the IBM/XIV deal."

Yanai was ousted from his role as EMC's vice president of engineering in 2001 after reportedly clashing with CEO Joseph Tucci over strategy, but remains highly respected in the storage industry. Yanai said in a press release that his company is "pleased to become a significant part of the IBM family," though it wasn't made clear in the release exactly what role he will play at Big Blue.

XIV was founded in 2002 and is known for its Nextra storage architecture, which boasts more extensive virtualization than most storage products on the market today, according to analyst Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group. (Compare storage products.)

"This gives IBM a platform for next generation storage arrays, and therefore makes Hitachi Data Systems and EMC take notice," he says.

The IBM/XIV deal closed Dec. 31. Financial details were not disclosed by the companies, though reports in the Israeli financial press pegged the selling price at $300 million to $350 million.

IBM acquired at least two other storage vendors in 2007 – NovusCG in October and Softek in January. 

XIV's storage-area network (SAN) technology is targeted at large enterprises and boasts a couple major advantages over storage products commonly used today, Taneja says. In a typical product, storage is managed by two controllers. If one of them fails, the other takes over its work but performance suffers, he says.

XIV allows the use of several additional controllers, letting customers add storage capacity without harming performance, according to Taneja.

XIV is also pushing the industry forward in how storage is virtualized, analysts say.

Each storage volume is spread across all drives in a system, so specific volumes are not mapped to specific drives, King and Hill write. "Virtualization is automatically built-in as the administrator deals only with logical – not physical drives," they write.

This means XIV "can squeeze significantly larger amounts of performance from the same number of drives," Taneja says. "It's more adept at supplying and feeding large numbers of applications that have different characteristics."

The only product with similar capabilities that's already on the market today comes from 3PAR, Taneja says. EMC and Hitachi do not have anything on the market with these capabilities, but it wouldn't be surprising if they have ongoing R&D efforts to design comparable technology, he says.

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