Our team wrote an internal analysis for Sun Execs on IBM's XIV buy last week (thanks to Bruce Norikane for his brilliant analysis as usual).
So, was this a good move for IBM? IMHO, yes. I don't know if the deal will pan out for IBM (who does), and I don't know how solid the technology is (all I can do it read what is public) - but from one competitor to another, I think it makes strategic sense for IBM (and for the industry).
Before I get to my thoughts on why, I do have to say this has been a fun analysis to do - primarily because of the Blog battle that broke out between some EMC and IBM bloggers. There is history here too, which always make things interesting. For those who are not storage insiders, here is the story (and feel free to use comments to correct anything I get wrong here...)
was founded in Israel in 2002 by Moshe Yanai who is known as the
father of EMC's Symmetrix disk system, one of the most successful
storage products in history.
- Moshe left EMC
8 years ago, and EMC focused its M&A money on buying software
- Moshe continued his innovation efforts at the infrastructure level, and has been involved with several startups including
- Now IBM picks up XIV, and Moshe, as part of its “on
demand” information management strategy
- Moshe's latest infrastructure innovation, NEXTRA, is radically different from the traditional monolithic infrastructure of EMC's Symmetrix and IBM's DS enterprise storage arrays
- Although details are scarce, in a nutshell, Moshe's NEXTRA (pictured at right) implements an
asymmetric cluster architecture with 2 types of nodes - interface
modules and data modules:
- The Interface modules
perform the front-end processing and host interface. They present
virtual SCSI LUNS through either FC or iSCSI host ports.
- The Data
modules store the data on 15 1TB SATA disks.
- Interface and Data
modules use dedicated 1Gb Ethernet switches to pass data and control
commands. Both modules use dual 2.6 Ghz Intel processors.
- Customers can add either
Interface modules for more front end processing or Data modules to
IBM bills its NEXTRA acquisition as a "Web 2.0" storage investment - which it should. Web 2.0 applications demand open, flexible storage - that are both affordable and can scale massively. Something expensive and hard to do with proprietary, monolithic architectures - but easier and cheaper to do with volume, general purpose storage "parts" strung together w/ clever software to achieve enterprise levels of capacity and performance.
So, if I may be allowed to speculate (that's what blogs are for right?) - it seems to me that IBM is positioning XIV as a Web 2.0 storage architecture to compliment its traditional DS enterprise array architecture (Sun has already taken this approach - more on this later). EMC is positioning XIV as an attempt to help/replace IBM's "failed" DS8000 program (IBM Enterprise DS series has had a not so good showing in the enterprise disk array space compared to EMC Symmetrix and Sun's StorageTek 9900 - aka Hitachi TagmaStore, HP XP). And I bet Moshe would love nothing better than to disrupt the market for IBM's DS series AND EMC's Symmetrix!
With that background, here are the XIV Blog Wars that broke out last week:
- IBM's Senior Storage Consultant, Tony Pearson, blog's on the announcement
- EMC blogger, the storage anarchist, criticizes the announcement, stating that EMC Centera is similar to NEXTRA and has been doing that kind of data protection for years.
- EMC blogger Chuck Hollis offers his analysis as well. He also asks two questions and offerers his own answers: "could this be a replacement for the DS8000? Yep" and "if you were building a Web-2.0-type storage platform, would you build it this way? Nope." (But he doesn't explain his answers, and I don't think it is as clear cut as some would like it to be)
- IBM blogger Tony Pearson fires back, accusing EMC of "Electrocuting an Elephant"
- This starts a string of Blogs from EMC heating this up - EMC's storage anarchist posts "the emperor and his new clothes" , "of blind men and an elephant" and "gotta getta life (line)". And EMC blogger Chuck Hollis thinks It's Not About Web 2.0 Storage...
- But perhaps the most telling blog is the shortest one - from EMC blogger Storagezilla who posts "Twilight of the Gods (Moshe)." From this post we see that this is a little personal - and when there is a lot of history, facts are sometimes harder to filter out from the perspectives.
What's really happening here? (and why I think this is a good move for IBM )
What is really going on is this: A new storage application has emerged in the data center - and it's pretty exciting. As with any emerging application or technology, every vendor has its own terminology until the industry settles on one it likes. Obviously I will be using some of Sun's terminology here...
What's the new data center application? In a nutshell, Web 2.0 applications. These are applications that store user content including media on web. Classic application examples include Google, eBay, Amazon.com. Emerging examples include SmugMug, FaceBook, MLB.com, SalesForce.com and even traditional wireless companies like Verizon who send thousands of games, images and ring tones over the wireless network.
IMPORTANT POINT: One of the most critical things I can say about this trend, it that a traditional storage application and a "Web 2.0" application can exist at the same company. If history is our guide, there isn't one application that will overtake the other (or one architecture that will completely overtake another) - a data center will have a mix of these technologies. (The mix % is what will change over time).
With that said, customer needs differ whether you are supporting a Web 2.0-type application or traditional storage application. See the table below.
| Traditional Storage Application Needs|| Web 2.0 Storage Application Needs|
- Data IntegrityData Protection (BC/DR)
- Massive scalability
- Open/flexible platforms
- Low cost
| Customer Types: Business & IT Management || Customer Types: Developers & IT Management|
What's Sun Storage doing about it?
So this is where we get to what Sun is doing about this market shift and why I think IBM's acquisition was a good idea...
First of all, Sun has invested in the traditional enterprise disk array market with the Sun StorageTek 9900 disk array - with Storage Virtualization, Thin Provisioning and the fastest performance on the planet, it's giving the market leader in this space (EMC) a run for its money
Second, Sun's development efforts are geared towards investing in open storage innovation in order to change the economics of storage, especially for Web 2.0 applications. In this sense, Sun has developed an Open Storage Platform (See trend #1 in Top 10 Trends).
Even more, while some companies are just announcing the acquisition of Web 2.0 infrastructures and other are leaking their development efforts for Web 2.0 infrastructures - Sun is already selling its Storage Server (Sun Fire X4500, aka Thumper) based on its Web 2.0 infrastructure offerings.
Although pricing information is scarce and unreliable around IBM's newest NEXTRA system, preliminary pricing appears to put it in the $5/GB range (about the same as traditional midrange SATA RAID)...and more than 5x Sun products like the Sun Fire X4500 already in the market.
So, the market is demanding traditional AND non-traditional storage infrastructures today for supporting application needs. Sun can be criticized for a lot of things, but a credit to the company has always been its ability to peg future market trends and innovate. What's new here, is that Sun is executing in the traditional storage space (with disk and tape - thanks to the StorageTek acquisition) AND the emerging Web 2.0 space...today...
---- Update ---
Read about our latest Web 2.0 investment...