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IBM storage software extends reach

Big Blue unveils an upgrade to its storage management software designed to handle boxes from rival EMC. But EMC suggests the technology is flawed.

Seeking to grab a larger share of the growing data storage software pie, IBM on Friday unveiled an upgrade to management software designed to work with equipment from rival EMC.

IBM said that later this month it will release a new version of its SAN Volume Controller, which is software for pooling data storage devices together in a process known as "virtualization." The software update is designed to work with additional hardware and operating systems. IBM said the new SAN Volume Controller will support Windows 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server 3.0, Solaris 9 and VMware ESX 2.1.

SAN Volume Controller version 1.2 also is designed to be able to manage Hitachi Data Systems' high-end Lightning disk array and new models of Hitachi's midrange Thunder array. Similarly, the software can handle EMC's midrange Clariion and high-end Symmetrix storage arrays, IBM said.

Thus far, SAN Volume Controller has supported IBM arrays and some storage gear from Hitachi and Hewlett-Packard.

Richard Villars, an analyst with research firm IDC, said support for the EMC devices is vital to IBM's vision of the software working with a diverse range of equipment. "This was something they absolutely had to do," he said.

The upgrade "will allow customers to spread data across both companies' storage hardware without worrying about the normal incompatibilities," IBM spokeswoman Lisa Lanspery said in an e-mail message.

Software to manage storage systems is becoming more central to organizations, as they seek to squeeze more out of their storage gear and cut administration costs. Worldwide sales of software for tasks such as data backup and recovery rose 7.9 percent in 2003 to $5 billion, research firm Gartner said recently.

SAN Volume Controller is built for storage area networks, which connect computers to storage devices for improved management and use. With the software, capacity can be added automatically as applications need it.

EMC, though, suggested SAN Volume Controller is flawed. EMC hasn't released storage virtualization technology yet, but it's working on it. "We've dedicated all the resources necessary to create technology that preserves the inherent performance and availability and functionality" of storage systems, said EMC spokesman Dave Farmer. "That's in contrast to today's announcement" from IBM, he said.

A source close to EMC said that EMC and EMC customer analysis has concluded that SAN Volume Controller would lead to serious performance degradation.

IBM took issue with the charge about lower performance. Lanspery said Big Blue "ran multiple tests in our labs that prove that the performance on all systems works fine."

Villars said EMC is right that performance will take a hit with SAN Volume Controller, but the hit may be worth it. IBM's software for handling various data storage devices runs on separate server computers. "That's another layer of processing," Villars said. But, he suggested, a better ability to manage storage for applications such as e-mail and customer relationship management systems may outweigh slower performance. "In a lot of cases, that's not going to be the primary concern," he said.