IBM's XIV storage lacks high-end features, analyst says

IBM's first XIV product lacks some high-end features and comes in only one configuration.

IBM has quietly released the first technology from its acquisition of XIV, the Israeli grid storage start-up headed by a former EMC guru, but the product appears to lack some high-end features and is targeted at only a very limited set of customers.

Without issuing a press release, IBM posted a hardware announcement that says the IBM XIV Storage System is generally available as of Friday.

"They have exposed a very limited set of capabilities that this architecture is capable of," says Arun Taneja, an analyst at the Taneja Group. "They're not very elaborate in places that matter."

IBM offers only one configuration, with 180 SATA disk drives, 24 Fibre Channel ports and six iSCSI ports. Besides offering just one version, Taneja says the product literature lacks any reference to some of the high-end features required by next generation Fibre Channel storage systems.

For example, IBM doesn't specify clearly enough whether XIV has a clustered controller design, Taneja says. As described last October in a Taneja report, "Next Generation Fibre Channel Storage Systems Market Forecast 2007-2011," clustered controller design offers more than two active controllers on a storage volume and synchronizes the cache across all active controllers.

"In addition to supporting multiple active controllers, clustered systems virtualize the individual controllers and make the entire set of controllers appear as one single storage system to hosts," Taneja writes.

Taneja does expect clustered controller design and other next-generation features to appear in future versions of the XIV product.

"I believe the architecture has [these features] but IBM didn't feel comfortable presenting them to the market yet," he says.

XIV's chairman was Moshe Yanai, who used to be EMC's head of engineering and was the chief architect behind Symmetrix. One analyst called Yanai's move to IBM akin to a Boston Red Sox star joining the New York Yankees.

EMC's chief strategy officer for the Symmetrix line, Barry Burke, took special delight in criticizing IBM's XIV release on his blog Tuesday.

"Weird. Nothing from IBM other than the announcement letters posted to IBM.com world-wide. Not even a press release. No customer stories," Burke writes. "Maybe this whole XIV thing wasn't really all that big a deal after all!"

IBM has not yet responded to e-mail and phone inquiries sent by Network World on Thursday.

There are probably still good reasons to look forward to IBM's future moves with XIV, Taneja says. XIV still had not released its first product when the IBM/XIV deal closed less than eight months ago, he notes. When a start-up is purchased by a big company like IBM, it's not uncommon for its technology to go "dark" for a year, he says. It wouldn't be surprising to see a more complete product rollout in the next few months.

"They've taken a very conservative step in presenting this product to the market," Taneja says. That may not be due to any inherent limitations in the XIV technology, he adds. "On the contrary, I think it's because IBM is IBM and they like to do things in a conservative fashion."

Analysts reacted positively after IBM announced its Dec. 31, 2007, acquisition of XIV, and particularly cited XIV's built-in virtualization technology.

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Jon Brodkin

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