IBM unveils virtualized, highly scalable mid-range storage array

The V7000 allows other vendor storage to be pooled behind it

Calling it a "game changer," IBM today announced a modular storage array that can scale from 12 to 240 drives and accept legacy storage from competitors through a virtualization engine, which allows the storage to be managed as a single pool.

IBM also announced several upgrades to existing products lines, including a new high-end array in its DS8000-series line. The company said its new DS8800 array , uses 8Gbit/sec host and RAID adapters and 2.5-in, 6Gbit/sec SAS drives, making it 40% faster than its predecessor, the DS8700. That array used 4Gbit/sec adapters and 3Gbit/sec SAS drives.

Rod Adkins, IBM 's senior vice president of its Systems and Technology Group, said the new model -- the Storwize V7000 -- is like the DS8700 "on steroids."

At a press and analyst event in New York City, IBM's focus was on its much-touted Storwize V7000 mid-range array , which comes in 12- and 24-disk configurations with two controllers, but can scale in capacity through expansion units to nine 2U (3.5-in) high disk arrays with 240 drives.

IBM included the fruit of multiple recent acquisitions in the Storwize V7000, including management data compression and virtualization features in the modular array system. It said mid-range customers have been demanding the same functionality found in the company's higher-end systems.

Brian Truskowski, general manager for system storage and networking at IBM, said the V7000 is now IBM's flagship product in its mid-range portfolio. The name comes from the data compression vendor IBM acquired earlier this year .

Truskowski said the system's size flexibility, ease of use through an intuitive GUI, multiple preset configurations for point-and-click management and advanced functions such as thin provisioning, snapshot replication and performance analysis tools set it apart from rival systems.

"All of that software is priced into that base offering, whereas most competitors will charge you for each of those software functions," he said.

The V7000 array also allows users to install a variety of 2.5-in drives, including serial ATA (SATA) and solid-state drives (SSDs). IBM included its Easy Tier software in the array, which moves the most active data, such as transactional data base transactions, to SSDs to prioritize and provide quick access to data for emerging workloads like analytics. Less active data is saved on SATA drives, which keeps it online but on more cost-effective storage.

IBM introduced its Easy Tier feature in April in the DS8700 array. Easy Tier is performance monitoring software that determines highly-active I/O streams and moves them to the fastest drives available in a system. IBM said its automated tiering technology can double system performance.

IBM also included ProtecTIER deduplication technology that it acquired through its buyout of Diligent Technologies in 2008. The software removes duplicate blocks of data as it's being stored to improve backup performance and cut capacity needs. Further reducing capacity requirements, IBM added a compression algorithm it acquired with its purchase of Storwize.

With those changes, the V7000 reduces the amount of capacity required by 80% compared to its predecessor, the DS5000 array, IBM said.

The V7000 uses IBM's Tivoli software to enable snapshot copies of data for replication and local backups, and to manage multiple instances of the array. For example, a user could have a V7000 in a primary data center replicating daily backups to a secondary V7000 array in an offsite disaster recovery facility, and both boxes can be managed through a single interface.

Legacy storage systems can also plug into the V7000 and be managed through the same single interface, as IBM has incorporated its SAN Volume Controller (SVC) software into the device.

Asked whether the V7000 now makes the SVC appliance -- the best-selling standalone virtualization appliance in the market -- unnecessary, Truskowski said the V7000 doesn't scale like the SVC does. "The V7000 is for people who want to migrate legacy data into the array. The SVC offers a clustered environment that can scale much higher," he said.

IBM already sells mid-range storage arrays, including the DS3000 and DS5000. Truskowski said that while those arrays are not as scalable as the Storwize V7000, they are complementary to it.

The V7000 starts at less that $55,000 and includes a three-year maintenance option for just under $10,000.

In another announcement, IBM said the DS8800 will also support its Easy Tier feature beginning next year.

IBM introduced its DS8000 line , based on its latest Power6 processor a year ago. It was IBM's first new high-end array line in over three years.

IBM also announced that it has updated its SAN Volume Controller software to include Easy Tier, an improved administrator GUI and increased scalability compared to the earlier version.

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