IBM…The [Big!] New Kid On The Block?

Now, strictly speaking, for the title of this blog to be accurate, I should probably have said IBM might be the new kid on the file, object, and cloud as well as the block…but that would have made it a tad too long, and spoiled the pun! Nonetheless, odd as it seems, the fact is that IBM recently had what amounted to a ‘coming out party’ in terms of its involvement in the storage market. It seems odd of course to think in those terms because IBM has been in the storage game for ever….well ‘for ever’ being a pretty darned long time since IBM effectively started the storage market back in the mid 1950s with the first commercially successful tape and disk drives.

For a few decades after that, IBM dominated the storage space (with a few ‘plug compatible' manufacturers snapping around its heels), but in more recent decades a dynamic competitive storage sector has emerged and IBM has – frankly – been somewhat relegated to the [at least marketing] shadows. Some of the change was no doubt due to the sophisticated and capable competitors lined up against it (EMC, NetApp, HP, HDS, and so on)….but some of the change has also been due to what-appears-to-be an unwillingness by IBM to toot its own horn. Whether born of old style-courtesy or something else, what makes the change in ‘perception-fortunes’ doubly odd is that IBM has never stopped being highly innovative in storage, nor indeed has it stopped having a vibrant storage revenue stream. You just wouldn’t have known! And it has even seemed at times as if IBM was accepting of its ‘dowager’ role; or – more generously – was at least concentrating its efforts elsewhere.

That all changed with a vengeance earlier this month at an event called ‘Edge’ where IBM made a clear statement of its intent that it is - and will be – a major and significant player in the storage world. IBM’s ‘Smarter Storage’ is what was announced.

So, does this grandiose statement of intent by IBM matter?

I think it does for the simple reason that IBM has all the requisite corporate muscle – research boffins, plenty of cash, determination, and patience – to actually achieve something. So it’s not that everything IBM spoke of earlier this month is actually available today, nor even that everything was even brand- new announcements; certainly there was some ‘reintegration’ of a few key existing offerings into the new Smarter Storage uber-vision, plus some intriguing new introductions, and several Statements of Direction (SoD) on follow-on components in the big-picture (such SoDs carry a good deal of weight from dear old Big Blue, since there are defined windows within which the corporation commits to deliver , and the mere issuance of a SoD is a hard thing to achieve within IBM).

Smarter Storage itself has three (pretty self-descriptive) foundational elements:

  • “Efficient by Design”
  • “Self Optimizing”
  • “Cloud Agile”.

In terms of some specific products that were announced, one of the most notable was Real-time Compression on the SVC and Storwize v7000 – that means compressing primary, block data in the storage system itself, not just compressing files in an appliance as hitherto. With years of run-time for the basic ability, the use of ‘standard’ LZ compression, and some 35 patents around the actual process and management, IBM’s claim to be able to deliver up to a 40% reduction in cost-per-TB is certainly a) a step in a very good direction; and b) going to drive other vendors to look at offering similar functionality. Other news included a multitude of Tivoli GUI and automation enhancements, as well as commitments to manage tiering both across systems and also up into server-based storage. Of course one of IBM’s value propositions is the breadth of its portfolio and so there were notable LTFS improvements on the tape side of the business too.

But it was the change in IBM’s tune, and its willingness to share a vision and state determination, that was both interesting and compelling. Even the nature of the event itself didn’t feel like other IBM events. With the keynotes opened by a dramatic electronic string quartet, the material presented [IBM even practiced ‘Smarter PowerPoint’ with font sizes that were actually legible!] clearly demonstrated cohesive and co-operative messaging, and was bolstered by some excellent and enthusiastic end-users. Rod Adkins was resplendent in his “IBM-lite” garb (tailored vest without a jacket) and – shock! horror! – we even had an IBM main stage presenter in jeans! To be fair he did have blue stripes on his sneakers…

To return to the serious point here. This was an assertive IBM. I wrote recently about this year’s EMC World and how I was glad that it had no ‘sweeping technical thematic’ news; in contrast, at IBM’s Edge having a big thematic introduction was indeed THE point…and I was equally glad of it. You can ‘net out’ “Edge” and “Smarter Storage” as the fact that IBM is back in the storage game with purpose; while some of the competition will privately be concerned (and all will no doubt scoff publically) for those of us watching the industry, and for consumers of storage, I see this as good news. IBM has the bandwidth and skills to do some of the ‘hard stuff’ to drive real change in storage....and watching this big old ‘new kid’ on the block ‘edge’ back into the spotlight will be thoroughly enjoyable.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure