Channel Giants Face Off on Storage

IBM unveils an aggressive new storage portfolio that seems to target EMC. HP Sun and Hitachi are also enhancing storage solutions. At stake is channel share in a market that so far is defying the spending slowdown.

September 9, 2008

Judy Mottl

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You could almost see the saloon doors flapping, feel the dust coming off a dirt road and hear the unsnapping of holsters as IBM unveiled its new storage portfolio strategy today, clearly spoiling for a showdown with EMC.

Instead of providing customers standalone hardware, or hawking a single enhancement to a software tool as it's done in the past, IBM is tying products and services together to help solve client issues, and to sell a combined toolbox of software, hardware and services.

It's a method similar to the approach used by market leader EMC. But Big Blue said its new plan is heftier with products, and deeper, thanks to the variety of services that can be added to the mix. That’s good news for channel partners looking to build profits in the expanding storage market.

"We want to know what the issues are, what the concerns are and what is needed, so we can provide a tool set to help customers build and adjust infrastructures," said Charlie Andrews, director of product marketing for IBM System Storage. "We aren't offering a menu of products that can be mind-boggling. A lot of things are impacting the data center, and we have the tools to help."

Big Blue's new approach comes as competition heats up for what's remaining a lucrative market in a general downturn, given that storage spending continues to climb despite larger economic woes.

It also indicates IBM's focus to shore up its customer interaction in providing and cross-selling storage solutions, according to one analyst.

"This is the single largest storage-related launch IBM has ever undertaken," said Mary Johnston Turner, a senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. "This is a new go-to-market strategy that will require IBM's sales and marketing organizations to engage in much more sophisticated conversations with customers."

While IBM's Andrews would not confirm that the new strategy is a move against storage leader EMC, he did admit that it's "not inconsistent with what others are doing."

"But we have all the fundamentals, better capabilities and massive IT centers where we are developing new technologies," he added. "We're learning from our own experiences and environments of customers and bringing that experience into play for other customers."

In debuting its strategy, IBM also announced 10 new products and enhancements to nearly 20 others. New offerings include a 1TB tape drive, an in-line, de-duplication tool and added services offerings. Enhancements include expanding security and encryption key management across product lines, a high-density tape storage library frame and an upgraded disk offering for mainframes.

However, its rival didn't flinch when asked about IBM's new approach.

"EMC first saw the shift in the flow of the world's data several years ago and has been developing and delivering innovative information infrastructure solutions that address the challenges that IBM describes at a pace unmatched in the industry," a company spokesperson explained.

The company pointed to a recent IDC report that noted EMC's market growth of 19.7 percent in worldwide external disk storage systems outshined IBM, which had 14.3 percent growth, and even outdid market growth overall, which was 16.7 percent.

EMC said its leadership in announcing SSD technology earlier this year, as well as new de-duplication tools last spring, illustrates that "EMC's broad portfolio provides better total value and integration than buying everything in [pieces] from multiple vendors."

One analyst said IBM's news is an extension of a larger Big Blue strategy called the New Enterprise Data Center (NEDC) announced earlier this year, adding that EMC has been pulling storage technologies under an "information infrastructure" strategy umbrella as well.

"While IBM does do large strategies at times, this one is particularly large and encompassing. Information infrastructure is one of the pillars of the NEDC and today’s announcements are part of establishing its scope and depth," said Clay Ryder, president at analyst firm Sageza Group. "EMC has been articulating a broad message about information storage, management, content and document management, etc. for quite some time."

However, IBM and EMC aren't the only ones with dueling storage strategies, Ryder noted. Other channel vendors such as HP, Sun Microsystems and Hitachi Digital Storage, have jumped on the bandwagon as well, though to a lesser extent.

"IBM needs to articulate a broader view of the datacenter to illustrate their competitive advantages over EMC’s considerable storage expertise, but lesser broad-based IT capabilities," Ryder said. "EMC is the leader, but IBM is a contender, and one that is getting more agile in storage vision and execution."

IBM's news includes its first new tool from its January acquisition of XIV. Now offering 1 terabyte capacity, as compared to the previous version's 500 gigabytes, the second-generation architecture is aimed at Web 2.0 environments, according to IBM. Also on the product news list is a scale out file services (SOFS), a virtualization service that can improve build-outs of clustered network attached storage systems.

The product announcements, according to one industry watcher, are IBM's attempt to "rationalize a disparate product set" yet also represent a "compelling" story.

"IBM was doing pretty well from a market-share standpoint, but not with mindshare," said Nick Allen, founder of analyst firm Tod Point Group. "It essentially got behind in development and the acquisitions have put a lot of arrows in the mindshare quiver."

(This article was adapted from

TAGS: IBM,EMC,Sun Microsystems,HP,Storage

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