Why IBM May Be Regretting $300M XIV Acquisition

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-08-18 Print this article Print

UPDATED: As you might imagine, when companies do something they deem "newsworthy" (and that term has a lot of relative meanings), they immediately ping their marketing folks and PR agencies to get them hooked up with media types, so they can tell their stories and get the word out as soon as possible.

So when IBM bought Israeli storage startup XIV in January for a reported $300 million, you bet it was newsworthy. Especially when you looked a little deeper and saw who the founder of XIV [pronounced X-I-V] is: a fellow named Moshe Yanai, the man who helped send EMC on its way to world prominence -- and higher stock value -- in disk storage back in the 1990s.

Yanai is a former tank division commander in the Israeli army who joined EMC in 1987, where he designed and built the first Symmetrix system, which is still a mainline product of EMC and now called the "DMX" series.

Yanai owns 18 storage system patents, all of which now are key ingredients in EMC's closely guarded intellectual property. Previously, Yanai had built IBM-compatible mainframe storage based on minicomputer disks.

IBM's buy of XIV came only two months after Dell's acquisition of EqualLogic. The moves were similar in that an established IT systems company added a cutting-edge company with second-generation storage technology.

Like many other companies now offer, XIV sported high-end features such as unlimited snapshots, I/O load balancing and automatic configuration that can be deployed on relatively inexpensive commodity hardware.

It all looked promising. But six months later, something's amiss. XIV came out last week with a hardware announcement buried in the IBM Web site about its first products under the Big Blue banner, but IBM corporate is strangely quiet about it. It made a simple announcement for the European market only. In other words, it's not pinging its PR agencies, breathlessly trying to get the news out.

Why not? The reason, some industry insiders -- including Storage Anarchist blogger (and, please note, EMC storage strategist) Barry Burke, longtime storage analyst Arun Taneja, and Omneon veep Geoff Stedman -- are saying, is that XIV didn't deliver the goods. It doesn't have anything that sets itself apart from others in the marketplace. In other words, it is apparent by the parent company's lack of ballyhoo that its products simply aren't good enough to supplant products IBM already has on hand. Or, they're just not good enough, period.

Here's the major problem with XIV: You have to buy 180 1TB drives in the new IBM XIV utility storage system to get a mere 80TB of usable capacity. It's got some really fat software (make that a LOT of fat software) and a huge amount space dedicated to redundancy hogging capacity in that system, and there's something very constipated about that.

This is second-generation data storage? Looks more like an extension of Yanai's late-'80s Symmetrix product than a cutting-edge new system.

The fact is, buying 180 1TB XIV drives to get 80TB of usable capacity makes no fiscal sense, because you can get about the same usable capacity with 33 percent fewer (100 to 120 1TB) drives in any conventional RAID 5 or 6 system. We can't even imagine what the extra cost might be in the XIV system to power and cool all those spinning disks for all that wasted storage.

No CIO or CTO in his or her right mind is going to okay a value proposition the way XIV proposes it now.

Stedman told The Station that "the XIV product mirrors much of what we already do, which is based on nearly 10 years of doing business with major broadcasters like Turner.

"For one, XIV is said to not use RAID. At Omneon, we believe RAID is inadequate for highly-scalable storage systems and to avoid the limitations of it, we developed a dynamic data redundancy technique which ensures 100 percent uptime and does not require lengthy rebuild times when a drive fails. Also, XIV is said to have a scale-out architecture. Since we don't use RAID, and rely on a modular, grid-based approach, customers can plug in any size box and use its full capacity immediately. And total system capacity can scale from a few terabytes to multiple petabytes within a single file system."

Actually, a couple dozen companies, including Pillar Data Systems, EMC, Compellent, Isilon, 3PAR, BlueArc, Xiotech, Lefthand Networks, Spectra Logic and others, could pretty much claim the same thing.

The Station called an IBM rep to get a response to this, by the way, and the answer was "We cannot comment." But we just know that Big Blue will have to make an announcement about XIV pretty soon; there's too much background talk in the industry for this to go unaddressed for very long.

At the time of the XIV acquisition in January, the word was that Moshe himself wasn't the real reason IBM wrote that reported $300 million check for the company. The talk was that Moshe, being the military-minded motivator that he is, knew how to put together an engineering team par exellence, as few others could.

Perhaps he didn't get the talent he thought he was getting. Or maybe he has lost his ability to motivate. Perhaps that $300 million to a small company -- meaning a few people ended up with a lot of money apiece -- quashed the kind of hunger and motivation that is needed to truly innovate. Look at the number of overpaid, undermotivated professional athletes in the United States at this time, and you'll see the parallel.

It could be any number of reasons. In any case, IBM is obviously not pleased with its investment, or it would be crowing all over the place.

So, The Station would like to reiterate something. Which next-gen storage company is IBM now looking for?

It's pretty obvious that it cannot come up with something new and startling on its own, so it's going to have to look elsewhere. Again.

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