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IBM turns its NAS ship around

Nov 17, 20054 mins
Data CenterIBMSAN

* IBM sharpens its NAS focus

IBM, which until this year had provided a colossally uninteresting set of network-attached storage products, has sharpened its focus and is at last rolling out some excellent solutions.

Until recently the company had introduced and withdrawn products at a fast-paced clip, but the market, unfortunately, took little notice, and for the most part these products were notable only by their lack of success. The decision-point IBM finally reached is one that many companies face – if we can’t build a product successfully (obviously, it couldn’t) and if we still want to supply it (having a viable NAS line fills out its product portfolio and gives it the chance to offer one-stop shopping to its customers), we’ll have to look elsewhere for out technology. And that’s what IBM did.

This is a time-honored tradition in the high-tech world, hated by most engineers but embraced by marketers, and exercised by all the leading storage vendors (EMC, HP and Sun all buy key technology from other companies, although for the most part they don’t like to admit it). IBM itself has done this numerous times when it was clearly advantageous to do so. For a NAS technology partner, last April IBM turned to an industry leader, Network Appliance.

All the rebranded NetApp boxes will have an “N” prefixed to the product number, a continuation of IBM’s commitment to catchy product names. The “N-series” filers are aimed at customers that run mixed environments and need to consolidate Windows, Linux and Unix files on a single source.

Since April, IBM has slowly been bringing NetApp solutions into its portfolio, while at the same time, in case you hadn’t noticed, withdrawing its internally developed NAS products. In August, IBM rolled out the entry-level N3700, a rebranded NetApp FAS270 with a near-complete line of software available and a three-year warranty. IBM supports these products itself, and offers them at prices that match what you can get from NetApp. Starting at a $50,000 price point however, the term “entry level” clearly does not apply to mom and pop shops. Like the machines from NetApp, the IBM offerings are aimed at the “M” part of SMB (small and midsize business). 

Last week, the company added the N5000 series, mid-range NAS solutions aimed at SMBs. The N5200 (beginning at $60,000) and N5500 (starting at $85,000) products differ only in high availability features, scalability and performance capabilities, and offer disk-to-disk backup, and data retention and archiving software with Write Once, Read Many (WORM) technology. Expect the N5000 line to include both filers and gateways in both single-node and clustered implementations.

Also, expect to see high end devices based on the NetApp 960 and 980 appearing before much longer.

Where is IBM going with this? For one thing, look for integration with IBM’s SAN Volume Controller and Tivoli management software. Beyond that, expect the NetApp and IBM versions to follow identical development paths (although pricing will likely be arrived at independently), including adherence to the SMI specification as soon as that is extended to NAS devices.

IBM now has a NAS as well as a storage-area network portfolio, all of which provides a chance for IBM to eliminate inroads from competitors (primarily EMC) at distributed storage sites where IBM is the incumbent supplier. Also, of course, NetApp will no longer compete for these sites. The “N-series” is being sold through IBM’s reseller partners, so if you are a present IBM customer you can have a reasonable expectation that your usual reseller will be up to speed on these devices.

*** Your chance to write this year’s Christmas storage wish list

In a few weeks, it will be time to publish my annual Christmas storage wish list.  This is an opportunity that the good folks and editors at Network World provide for you to tell the vendors what you would like to see from them in the coming year.

If you want to make a point, zing a vendor, or just engage in some healthy venting, e-mail your wish list to me some time during the next few weeks. Who knows what you might find under your tree.