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IBM invests heavily in high-end storage market

Big Blue earmarks an additional $400 million for its high-end storage initiative to expand sales and try to get storage devices to work better together.

IBM has earmarked an additional $400 million for its high-end storage initiative to expand sales and try to get storage devices to work better together.

IBM already has storage hardware, software and services scattered across different parts of the company. Under the new effort, IBM will tie those products and services more closely together, said Linda Sanford, general manager of the storage subsystems division. The sales and technical support staff will be bolstered with 1,000 new employees.

The main target of the effort is EMC, the Hopkinton, Mass., company that has kept the lead in expensive, refrigerator-sized storage devices. EMC's initial storage products attached to IBM mainframes, but the company has expanded to Unix and Windows servers as well.

"We had not made the investments over the last several years to maintain what we once had, which was a leadership position in the storage business," Sanford said. IBM still has a strong business selling hard disks and disk components but only started taking on EMC's products when it introduced its "Shark" storage device in 1999.

IBM isn't the only company yearning to take a slice of EMC's business. Sun, Compaq, Dell and Hewlett-Packard also have products.

The way to pass EMC is to get to the point where storage devices from all sorts of companies can work together, Sanford said. This will ease the task of building "storage area networks," or SANs, which are essentially separate networks devoted to storage devices.

Storage analysts and companies have advocated the benefits of SANs for years, but getting the network adapters, storage systems, switches, hubs and other equipment to work together has been an elusive goal. "Clearly we haven't solved this, but we are working very hard," Sanford said. In particular, many blame the fibre channel standard for high-speed data transfer as being too vague.

The fact that SAN devices don't play well together has meant SANs have been expensive to build and typically have been made out of a specific collection of devices guaranteed to work together.

IBM believes that increasing the interoperability of SAN devices will erode EMC's lead. To that end, it's building locations where customers can try out combinations of servers, storage devices and networking hardware. IBM already has such a site in Gaithersburg, Md., has opened a new one in Montpellier, France, and will open a new one in Makuhari, Japan, she said.

Trying to attain this "interoperability" is also the goal of the Storage Networking Industry Association, an industry group that includes IBM, EMC and numerous other companies. Compaq is paying for office space in Colorado Springs to help SNIA build a center to get storage network components to work together better.