IBM's software-defined storage rides Watson's coattails

The company is announcing storage virtualization that helped Watson win on Jeopardy

Storage is now marching down the same path as computing, approaching a future when all of an organization's storage systems can be mixed and managed as virtual pools.

On Monday, IBM will take the wraps off a portfolio of products for so-called software-defined storage, an area where established vendors and startups alike are already claiming the future has arrived. IBM is using TV star power to push its entries, saying the products are based partly on technology the company used with its high-powered Watson system on the TV game show Jeopardy.

That technology, called "Elastic Storage," aims at some of the same goals as EMC's ViPR 2.0 software, which launched last week. The general idea is to be able to access any type of data across all of an enterprise's storage systems in multiple locations. Just as it did with servers, virtualization treats storage arrays as a collective resource that can be split into virtual systems to suit application requirements.

A key benefit of Elastic Storage is that it can automatically move less-used data from across that whole pool of capacity into less expensive commodity storage, leaving faster and more expensive resources such as flash for more urgently needed bits. That automatic reshuffling, guided by policies and real-time analytics, can cut storage costs by as much as 90 percent, IBM claims.

The technology also eases administration, speeds access to data, and lets enterprises expand their capacity quickly, the company says.

Like ViPR, Elastic Storage is designed to work with storage gear from third-party vendors. IBM says it will work with any company's products. It supports the OpenStack protocol, allowing users to access and manage data across private and public clouds, and can work with Hadoop and other open APIs (application programming interfaces), IBM said.

During Watson's Jeopardy appearance in 2011, in which the system defeated two human contestants, Elastic Storage was able to load 200 million pages (5TB) of data into Watson's memory within minutes, IBM said. The architecture of Elastic Storage allows it to work with thousands of yottabytes, each of which is equal to 1 billion petabytes.

In addition to being offered as software by itself, Elastic Storage will be available later this year as a cloud service through IBM's SoftLayer IaaS (infrastructure as a service) offering.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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