IBM Finally Upgrades Its XIV Storage System

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-07-14

IBM Finally Upgrades Its XIV Storage System

A full 18 months after IBM plunked down $300 million in January 2008 to buy relatively unknown XIV and its large-scale storage systems, Big Blue on July 14 finally announced its own enhancements to the product line.

XIV's Tier 1 external-disk system is completely distributed. It packages all data storage into 1MB chunks and spreads them around the system, so that no one or two disks have to handle most of the workload. This saves on disk life and increases performance. When more arms of the system are used-and load-balanced-hot spots and well-worn disks in the system are avoided.

Like several other companies now offer, XIV also sports high-end features-at no extra cost-such as unlimited snapshots, I/O load balancing and automatic configuration that can be deployed on relatively inexpensive commodity hardware.

The XIV enhancements introduced July 14 are largely based on the addition of new multi-core processors, which nearly always bring performance improvements.

In actuality, the improvements to the system overall are minor in scope.

The new functionality includes support of Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), which enables single sign-on and consolidated access control for multiple systems; and Tivoli Productivity Center 4.1 support, designed to simplify cross-systems management.

David Vaughn, IBM's information infrastructure offering manager, told eWEEK that IBM also plans to add support for asynchronous mirroring later this year for the XIV Storage System.

"This will enable remote disaster site recovery without a limit on distance and without impacting response time, and will help customers protect information from local outages, ensuring the continuing availability of critical information," Vaughn said.

"For example, a hospital using the XIV storage system would be able to continuously mirror medical test results to a site thousands of miles away, enabling medical professionals to access patient information at all times."

Vaughn said XIV is aimed at large data center operations that handle workloads such as financial services, health care records and services, and scientific research.

IBM also announced that it is making available a thin-provisioning feature for its standard DS8000 enterprise storage system at a cost of about $69,000.

Thin provisioning supports continuous operations for cross-platform, mission-critical workloads; it also increases storage capacity utilization with little or no loss in performance.

Analysts Have Been Waiting for XIV News

A number of industry analysts have been wondering when IBM would come out with some XIV news and have been blogging opinions that perhaps Big Blue wasn't overly enamored about what was coming out of the XIV garage.

Longtime storage analyst David Hill of The Mesabi Group disputed those perspectives.

"IBM claims nearly 1,000 units sold in one year across a range of verticals with a strong emphasis on the enterprise space," Hill told eWEEK. "Moreover, IBM claims strong sales to non-IBM customers, which means a net gain in market share for IBM. That is actually a very impressive track record for XIV since its acquisition by IBM."

Is XIV Really That Innovative?

Industry people also have questioned whether XIV is really that innovative, since many storage companies now use off-the-shelf components to house their software.

"Everybody gets to use the 26 letters of the alphabet, but some people write much better than others," Hill said. "So using common components does not mean that everyone will get the same results.

"And not everyone uses the same software, which is the secret sauce that differentiates products. For example, everyone can use SATA [serial ATA] drives, but not everyone can get the enterprise-class reliability and performance that XIV gets through massive parallelism and its own spin on grid architecture. The way that it partitions chunks of data and keeps all spindles active is key to its success. So yes, XIV is that innovative."

Hill also said that "new ways of doing business take some getting used to," and the storage business is no different.

"Understanding what XIV is and how it is different can take some getting used to, but, given its announced sales results, IBM seems to be making its case effectively. IBM's competitors are going to have to pay increased attention to it," Hill said.

Mark Peters of Enterprise Strategy Group reminded eWEEK that storage based on commodity components is a strategy that is selling very well.

"Storage based on commodity components integrated with high functioning software seems to be both proven [3PAR, Dell's Equallogic, HP's Lefthand Networks] and growing in popularity [Sun's Open Storage and even the new VMax from EMC]," Peters said.

"Just because many are doing it does not diminish its value-one could argue it substantiates the approach."

XIV Founder Travels to Sales Calls

Israel-based XIV might be relatively unknown, but in the January 2008 transaction IBM was able to sign up one of the true original thinkers in the business: XIV founder Moshe Yanai, the man who helped in a big way to put EMC on the storage map in the 1990s.

EMC now is the largest storage company in the world, and certainly much of that success can be attributed to its high-end enterprise Symmetrix (now DMX) storage arrays, of which Yanai was the chief developer.

In fact, Yanai owns 40 storage system patents, many of which now are key ingredients in EMC's closely guarded intellectual property. Before joining EMC in 1987, Yanai had built IBM-compatible mainframe storage based on minicomputer disks.

Yanai, since being appointed IBM fellow at the time of the acquisition, continues to work on a full-time basis in the ramp-up of XIV sales. He travels extensively, meeting with customers at their sites to explain the system and its intricacies, an IBM spokesperson said.

While not part of his team's day-to-day operation, Yanai meets with the XIV development team on a regular basis, IBM said.

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