Sep 1 ’06

Storage Becomes Strategic: Insights on a Competitive Market

by Editor in z/Journal

Something big is happening with storage these days. Your mainframe shop may have already felt the tremors that are rocking storage. The days when data center managers could just plug disk arrays into a mainframe channel and claim they had solved the storage challenge are gone. Storage has become strategic—central to the way the organization operates.

Not long ago, the buzz revolved around how much money organizations were sinking into storage. Although the cost on a per gigabyte basis has steadily dropped, the aggregate cost of those cheap gigabytes when purchasing tens or hundreds of terabytes of storage remains shockingly high. Industry analysts estimate that an organization may spend as much as half the IT capital budget on storage capacity. In many organizations, storage is the single largest line item in the IT budget.

Today, the focus isn’t on the money but on the new role storage is being called on to play and how storage strategies need to change to support this new role.

“Though storage has been independent of other systems, it is becoming interdependent,” says David Hill, principal, Mesabi Group, a research firm. That interdependence is leading to what Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM storage, describes as “a sea change occurring in the storage industry.” That change revolves around the sheer growth in the amount of data organizations must store and the recognition of the value of that data.

“This is about the growth of information and the management of that information,” adds Kristie Bell, IBM vice president for systems storage.

The amount of data being stored and its importance introduces several new factors into the traditional storage equation:

“This is a changing storage environment and all the major vendors have been scrambling to shore up their storage offerings,” says Greg Schulz, senior analyst, StorageIO, a technology research firm in Stillwater, MN.

For example, HP recently revamped its EVA midrange storage product lineup and acquired AppIQ, a leading heterogeneous storage management vendor. EMC, too, has acquired several companies, refreshing its offerings.

IBM’s Offensive

In May 2006, IBM announced a series of product enhancements aimed at all aspects of its storage offerings. It enhanced the SAN Volume Controller (SVC), further extending its leadership in the area of storage virtualization. It bolstered its disk product offerings, including Network-Attached Storage (NAS). IBM also launched an open source storage management initiative, Aperi, which aims to replicate its success with Eclipse, its open source application development tool initiative.

Of immediate interest to mainframe shops, IBM revamped its tape and Automated Tape Library (ATL) products, especially the TS3500 tape libraries and tape controllers. It also achieved a major breakthrough in packing more data—6.67 billion bits of data per square inch—onto magnetic tape, about 15 times more than the current state of the art.

 “This shows there’s still a demand for tape, and the technology is going to be around and thriving for a long time,” says Schulz.

Even before these announcements, IBM was on a roll. According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Systems Tracker report for Q4 2005, IBM, with 47 percent growth, experienced the fastest quarter-to-quarter revenue growth worldwide, outpacing both HP and EMC. For all of 2005, IBM experienced 24 percent disk revenue growth.

Virtualization Remains Hot

Although virtualization has yet to catch on in the mainframe environment, IBM’s SVC announcements grabbed much of the attention. Specifically, IBM boosted SVC fabric speed to 4Gb per second, keeping pace with the current fibre channel industry standard. It also added global mirroring, a critical capability for disaster recovery scenarios. Finally, it extended the number of non-IBM storage platforms it supports to include systems from HDS, HP, and Network Appliance. In conjunction with the enhancements, IBM announced it had reached 2000 SVC customers, a major milestone.

“Storage virtualization is an enabling technology,” says David Freund, practice leader at Illuminata Inc., a research firm based in Nashua, NH. “It gives you fungible capacity and ease of management. The mainframe had it long ago.”

EMC and HDS also offer storage virtualization products. EMC introduced Invista, software that provides storage virtualization through an intelligent switch. HDS provides TagmaStore, a virtualizing storage array with the virtualization built into the array itself.

IBM’s SVC, by comparison, delivers virtualization as an appliance.

Although storage virtualization is primarily an open systems issue, most organizations running mainframes also run open systems. Typically, these involve highly heterogeneous storage environments, and they indeed can benefit from storage virtualization, especially if the ultimate goal is an on-demand computing environment.

“IBM has done a better job with storage virtualization than anyone in the market,” says Arun Taneja, principal, Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA. “They are two years ahead of the others.” Although SVC doesn’t directly address the mainframe, “you can’t realize IBM’s vision of on-demand computing without good virtualization,” he adds. The support for additional storage platforms is welcome, but the biggest gain for companies that have standardized on IBM storage may be the ability to virtualize IBM’s own platforms. “IBM customers have a mix of different IBM storage, some old, some new,” Taneja continues. “Until SVC, they couldn’t meld all these together.” Still, dedicated mainframe shops have shown scant interest in SVC, at least for now.

“Virtualization isn’t a priority for us,” says Chris Hilliard, systems programmer for the City of Norfolk, VA. The city operates a z/800 with 12TB of ESS storage. Three-quarters of the storage is dedicated to open systems storage, the remainder for the mainframe. But as far as its mainframe goes, virtualization doesn’t add anything.

Boscov’s Department Store in Reading, PA, upgraded to a z/990 running z/OS, z/VM, and 60 Linux partitions and migrated to 9TB of DS8100 storage in a recent storage consolidation move. Even with all those Linux servers, however, the company has avoided open systems SANs, preferring conventional mainframe attached storage.

“Virtualization doesn’t do anything for us,” says Joe Poole, Boscov’s manager of tech support. “We run Linux for specific functions. There’s no shared storage.”

“CIOs may disagree on the benefits of virtualization, but it will win by the process of attrition,” says Hill. “Once a company tries it, they won’t go back.”

Virtualization may yet penetrate conventional mainframe shops through Disaster Recovery (DR). As part of the SVC announcements, IBM introduced replication and business continuity capabilities, including upcoming support for IBM System Storage DS8000 and DS6000. Combined with SVC’s new global mirroring capability, organizations will be able to replicate data to distant locations for DR purposes.

Storage Management

IBM is trying to close a perceived gap between its storage management and those of rivals EMC and HP. “IBM really needs to simplify its storage management offerings,” says Schulz. Adds Taneja: “IBM’s storage management is still a potpourri of products that lack consistency and cohesiveness.”

For example, IBM offers the TotalStorage Productivity Center for Disk (TPC), which is intended for managing SAN storage devices by letting administrators configure, administer, and monitor the storage from a single console. That, however, does only part of the job.

You have to jump to Tivoli to do another part. Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) is a set of data protection utilities that perform backup, archive, space management, and bare-metal restore as well as compliance and DR for the data in a hierarchy of offline storage. IBM’s Aperi, an open source storage management initiative, is intended to provide a set of low-level storage management utilities as open source software.

“Aperi will let the industry stop developing duplicate low value parts,” says Brenda Haynes, IBM director of the Aperi open source project. “These are the parts that should be part of the infrastructure.”

IBM has committed to providing code to get the project off the ground. The concept makes sense. Companies will freely share base storage management functionality and then differentiate themselves by providing higher-value functionality for a fee on top of the base. Aperi will implement all industry standards from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and its various Storage Management Interface Specification (SMI-S) initiatives. To date, 10 companies have signed on for Aperi. Conspicuously missing, however, are some key storage management players, such as HP, EMC, and Symantec.

“At this point, I’m unsure where Aperi will go,” says Taneja. Unless the other big storage management players jump aboard, it probably won’t go anywhere.

Maybe mainframe storage managers can for now safely ignore IBM’s latest storage announcements, except for the tape library announcements, given the open systems emphasis. However, the announcements are indicative of changes that are already sweeping the entire storage industry and will eventually impact mainframe storage.