IBM puts software and Cloud at the center of storage

The IBM Spectrum Storage strategy embraces multiple vendors and clouds

The future of storage may not be in storage itself, but in the intelligence to manage it.

Major storage vendors and startups alike are now pushing software-defined systems spanning anything from a set of arrays to a whole enterprise. On Tuesday, IBM placed a big bet on this trend, announcing the first product in a portfolio called IBM Spectrum Storage and saying it will invest $US1 billion in storage software over the next five years.

The strategy will see IBM offer its traditional storage systems in software form so customers can choose to buy them as appliance, software or service. The first Spectrum Storage product out of the gate is IBM Spectrum Accelerate, software that's based on the company's own XIV high-end storage appliance.

IBM envisions Spectrum Storage as a layer of software on top of arrays and other systems, including platforms from third-party vendors. It will span in-house data centers and cloud resources including IBM's SoftLayer cloud service, moving bits around all that infrastructure to the best location for performance and cost, the company says.

Spectrum Accelerate, like the XIV platform on which it's based, is designed for disk-based storage but can take advantage of flash as high-speed cache. Users can install the software on any Intel-based storage platform, giving systems they already bought the management intelligence and interface of XIV. The software also can run on IBM Power-based systems.

Among other things, Spectrum Accelerate lets enterprises pool their storage resources and add capacity in minutes, according to IBM. Pooling can cut down on unused capacity trapped in silos, saving space and hardware investments. Administrators can run Accelerate from a graphical user interface that in browsers on desktops and iOS and Android mobile devices. The management software can also be integrated with IBM Spectrum Control. It's scheduled to ship next month.

IBM Spectrum Storage is also heading for the clouds. With cloud gateway software that's coming out later this year, users will be able to migrate data to SoftLayer and other cloud services as tiers within their overall storage environment, said Jamie Thomas, general manager for storage and software-defined systems at IBM. This should help organizations deal with geographic and regulatory requirements as well as the changing needs of business.

In addition, users will be able to create a "cloud of clouds" in which one cloud can serve as a bulwark against possible service outages and data loss on another. The gateway will work first with SoftLayer and third-party cloud storage services based on IBM technology, but as customers demand it, IBM will be able to bring other clouds into that fold, Thomas said.

IBM is smart to point its storage strategy toward software, because hardware is no longer what distinguishes storage platforms, IDC analyst Ashish Nadkarni said. Though it's made moves in that direction before, the new plan and a reorganization show the company really believes it now, he said. Its very visible commitment to the concept through IBM Spectrum Storage may push another big storage player, EMC, to place a bigger bet on software-defined storage, too, Nadkarni said.

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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