IBM adopts new storage network standard

Hoping to gain ground on EMC and Network Appliance, Big Blue is to announce new storage products that encourage networks to be built using TCP/IP.

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IBM is embracing a new network standard for its storage products even as its biggest competitor, EMC, argues that the technology isn't ripe yet.

IBM will announce new storage products Wednesday that encourage networks of storage products to be built using TCP/IP, the communication standard that underlies the Internet. High-end storage networks currently use a standard called Fibre Channel.

EMC has fought its way to the top of the heap in the storage market, but IBM--along with Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Compaq Computer, Dell Computer and just about every other major computing company--hopes to nibble away at that market share and customer loyalty.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM hopes its adoption of TCP/IP as the foundation of storage networks will help put it a step ahead of EMC. On the other hand, it will also put IBM into more competition with Network Appliance, which has years of experience with storage using TCP/IP networks, though in less radical ways.

"We learn by being first," Linda Sanford, head of IBM's storage group, said in an interview Tuesday. "IBM is a great technology company at its heart."

The first lesson IBM is learning with its new IP Storage 200i is that TCP/IP isn't as fast as Fibre Channel.

"This is an emerging technology," Sanford said. "It is aimed at the low end of the market."

EMC has a more conservative view. In a recent interview, Chief Technology Officer Jim Rothnie said storage using TCP/IP won't be a viable product until about two years from now.

The 100i will be available

Gartner analyst Robert Passmore believes that IBM has made a wise move in announcing low-end storage area networks using SCSI running over TCP/IP.

see commentary

in the first half of the year with a starting price around $20,000, IBM said. It's based on the Linux operating system, though the particulars of its working are hidden from consumers.

The IP Storage 200i uses a new standard called iSCSI, an Internet version of the SCSI technology used to attach hard disks and other devices to computers. IBM is working with Cisco Systems--which acquired iSCSI developer NuSpeed in July--to make iSCSI a standard approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

The iSCSI standard makes it possible to use ordinary TCP/IP hardware instead of Fibre Channel in the development of a SAN (storage area network), a notoriously complicated but increasingly popular way of making storage systems stand alone instead of tying them to a server.

In addition, IBM announced a product that bridges SANs and a cheaper way to make standalone storage systems called NAS (network-attached storage). NAS devices easily plug into existing TCP/IP networks.

The new NAS 300G bridges NAS and SAN, Sanford said. Like EMC's Celerra product, it consolidates data stored on NAS servers and makes it look as if it's stored on a single, ordinary file server.

"NAS (devices) are starting to pop up like rabbits," Sanford said. IBM hopes the 300G, with prices between $44,000 and $95,000, will simplify storage networks, she said. A lower-end 300G is due March 9, while a higher-end model is scheduled to arrive April 27.

The flagship of IBM's storage efforts remains Shark, which competes with EMC's Symmetrix storage product. When IBM began selling it more than a year ago, it lacked high-end software features, but IBM began shipping systems with those features in December with typical price tags of about $1 million.

Sanford has acknowledged that the missing software hurt IBM. The company, however, has sold hundreds. New customers who wouldn't buy the systems without the software included financial services and communications companies, Sanford said.