Of XIV and IBM's Symmetrix-killer

IBM's XIV storage group just sold its 1,000th enterprise disk array--probably to an EMC Symmetrix/DMX customer. Here's the back story.

John Webster Special to CNET News
John, a senior partner at Evaluator Group, has 30 years of experience in enterprise IT storage, spanning mainframe and open systems environments. He has served as principal IT adviser at Illuminata and has held analyst positions at IDC and Yankee Group Research. He also co-authored the book "Inescapable Data Harnessing the Power of Convergence."
John Webster
4 min read

IBM's storage group is now in the habit of making smorgasbord announcements. They'll take a look at their storage lineup--one that includes everything from SSD to tape, storage-related software and services--select the new stuff going on within each product development cycle they think is significant and therefore want to publicize, then bundle all of these separate announcements up in a wrapper ("Information Infrastructure" begets "Smart Planet")--and step up to the microphone.

And so it is with IBM's most recent storage table selection. They're now offering replication and deduplication for ProtecTIER, faster hardware and SSD support SAN Volume Controller, Thin Provisioning for DS8000 arrays, a new version of Tivoli Storage Manager, and numerous enhancements for XIV storage. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to belittle what they're doing. I would, however, like to observe that some of the more significant and interesting things can tend to get lost in the shuffle. XIV is a case in point.

XIV could well be a piece of computer history in the making because its guiding light, when at EMC, once took on and beat IBM at its own game. XIV was founded

in 2002 and emerged in 2005 with its first product called Nextra. It is an Israeli-based start-up and the place where Moshe Yanni landed after he left EMC. Yanni, known in the storage industry by just his first name ("mo-shay"), is the father of EMC's Symmetrix/DMX, the longest running disk array product family ever. He and his team created the MOSAIC 2000 storage architecture, which allowed EMC to update Symmetrix' disk, controller, and connectivity technologies more or less independently of one another. MOSAIC 2000 helped in a big way to establish the financial foundation that supported EMC's future expansions into content management, security, and virtualization.

As mentioned, XIV announced its first product, Nextra, four years ago--a next-generation disk array composed of clustered storage nodes. Shortly thereafter, XIV--and Moshe--were acquired by IBM. So here we have the father of Symmetrix, a product that allowed EMC to supplant IBM as the king of enterprise storage, now carrying the banner for the IBM storage team. Could EMC's former benefactor and acknowledged storage maven now become its biggest enterprise storage headache? Quite possibly.

By all accounts, Moshe doesn't kid around. Lore has it that he was once (and may still be) equipped with an Israeli fighter jet, and that after EMC bought the Clariion array along with the rest of Data General, which he saw as an internal competitor, he and his team built a small Symmetrix, stood it up outside his office door, and attached a sign to it that read "Clarrion killer." Lore also has it that his departure from EMC was literally an executive office glass-shattering event. In fact, there is a whole body of Moshe lore known mostly to storage industry cognoscenti--stories traded over beers. Who knows how much of it is fact? But one thing we all agree on: when the world of enterprise storage feels like a snake pit as it often does, you want Moshe on your side. Now he's on IBM's side.

IBM's acquisition of XIV raised more than a few industry eyebrows. A fiercely independent storage genius goes to work for the Big Blue marketing machine known as IBM? A clash of titans could be in the making. Well, so far so good. IBM dropped the Nextra label in favor of calling both the product and the company XIV, but has allowed XIV to field its own salesforce, as well as manage its own R&D budget and product development efforts. IBM is also promoting the XIV brand as an enterprise storage play, in spite of the fact that it also has its own internally-developed enterprise storage array line, the DS8000 series. IBM also allowed XIV to announce that it recently sold its 1,000th array, and that many of its new customers are former EMC Symmetrix/DMX customers.

Now that IBM has two enterprise disk arrays in the product portfolio, and two sales teams selling enterprise arrays to the same big systems customers, one could well wonder how IBM will differentiate going forward. Look to future announcements for clues. When the XIV acquisition was announced to storage analysts, IBM positioned XIV in "Web 2.0 storage"--that is, as something distinct from traditional data center storage where the DS8000 lived.

Well, ahem. Guys, nice try. We know a bit about Moshe and we don't think he's about to confine himself to a market subsegment. We now note that the most recent XIV announcement drops the Web 2.0 distinction and moves the DS8000 closer to the System z mainframe world--a place where XIV doesn't play because it doesn't support CKD disk formatting. It's not that XIV's engineers don't know how to do that. Moshe's Symmetrix started life as a mainframe-attached box. But there have to be some distinctions going forward. IBM mainframe customers get the DS8000 exclusively for now, but maybe not forever. And IBM is rumored to have one more DS8000 model to release later this year.

Watch future announcements for subtle shifts in messaging though as IBM will transition from DS8000 to XIV as its flagship enterprise storage array. The DS8000 is now called the "flagship mainframe array," while the XIV array has been promoted the "next generation storage" on IBM's most recent storage smorgasbord.

One more piece of Moshe lore--the name of the company XIV or the Roman numeral fourteen? What's the significance? Ask around and you may get conflicting answers. That's the nature of a legendary figure. The one I've settled on is this one: XIV stands for the fourteenth graduating class of Talpiot, an elite Israeli Defense Forces training program, of which Moshe and three other XIV executives were members.