Originating Author: G Berton Latamore
Moderator: David Vellante
Analyst: Josh Krischer
IBM rang in 2008 with the surprise acquisition of XIV, an Israeli firm founded by Moshe Yanai, the lead developer of EMC’s Symmetrix cached disk array. Immediately, the positioning wars began with some of IBM’s competitors proclaiming that NEXTRA, XIV’s disk array, signals the death of IBM’s DS8000 line, while IBM itself stressed the product’s positioning as infrastructure to support Web 2.0 applications.
NEXTRA uses an asymmetric cluster approach, with interface modules to perform front-end processing and provide connections to hosts, and data modules that store data on high capacity SATA disks at the back-end. Both modules rely on off-the-shelf Intel processors and standard components. NEXTRA scales by adding either interface or data modules to support more front-end bandwidth or back-end capacity respectively. Thus NEXTRA resembles a clustered storage subsystem using high capacity SATA devices (750GB or 1TB) based on a Linux platform where data is virtualized.
NEXTRA has many similarities with the Google File System (GFS), which is commonly seen as the reference model for Web 2.0 cloud computing, namely the spreading of data, self-healing, and dirt cheap components. However, it has substantial differences as well, including its block-based architecture and relatively centralized resource proximity (versus the highly distributed file architectures of GFS and others). This leads the Wikibon community to conclude that XIV is positioned more as a general purpose enterprise array, closer to 3PAR than GFS and will not today compete in the Web 2.0 cloud computing space.
What does this acquisition mean for IBM customers? While only time will tell, the Wikibon community believes that in the intermediate term the NEXTRA architecture is positioned at the high end relative to products from LSI/Engenio and NetApp. Longer term, with the addition of mainframe support, it could in fact replace the IBM DS8000. It appears IBM is betting on clustered storage as its future mainstream block-based storage approach, but in the near term it is not likely to alter storage strategies.
What does this architecture mean for the future of general purpose enterprise storage? Generally, NEXTRA is delivering tier 1a/tier 2 performance with tier 3 devices. The market NEXTRA is aimed at is systems in excess of 30TBs priced at approximately $150,000 and up and will likely support large, non-mainframe, general-purpose enterprise tier 2 storage and perhaps an emerging set of new block-based applications.
Action Item: IBM’s commitment to invest a speculated $300+M in essentially what appears to be a top notch research and development capability represents a big bet in the enterprise clustered storage market. This has unclear implications but interesting possibilities to use commodity components to reduce costs for general-purpose storage. However, customers need to push IBM to understand where NEXTRA fits and see some meaningful uptake of the product in mainstream customer applications before committing.