IBM – 60+ years of storage innovation and moving forward

Few people probably remember that as far back as the early 1950s, IBM has been developing storage media and systems. Despite having sold its hard disk drive business to Hitachi, IBM continues to push the envelope of innovation around storage systems. Storageasean recently interviewed Jeff Barber to get his perspective on the changes that continue to take place around storage development, Vice President and Business Line Executive, IBM Worldwide Storage Sales.
SA: Storage is old technology – how has it changed in the past 30 years?
Barber: The industry moved from storing data on paper punch cards to magnetic tape (the first “digital” storage) in the early 1950’s. IBM led the way with the first tape storage system that was designed to work with our first mainframe computer in 1952. A few years later, in 1956, IBM was the first to provide a hard disk drive on which, and from which, users could store and retrieve data. Since those early days, storage technologies have advanced at great speeds. Today, things like access times, density and costs have improved exponentially from those first days of digital storage. Today, technologies such as Flash-based systems, which offer even faster access times, low-energy requirements, and even less real estate requirements, and you get an idea of how far we’ve come – Flash is dramatically changing the economics and performance of the data center. Combined with system-level advances, things like cloud storage, automatic tiering, virtualization, automated provisioning and mobile have helped more organizations do more with less resources than ever before.

SA: Given the proliferation of solid state media, do you think there is still a future for tape, as well as magnetic and optical discs?
Barber: Absolutely! The various storage technologies have very strategic roles to play for uses across the industries helping them achieve a wide range of objectives from long-term data archiving to usage scenarios that require instantaneous data storage and retrieval. The latest innovations in flash storage are accelerating business critical and high performance requirements while disk systems will continue to be utilized by clients for the vast majority of custom data. In addition, Flash and disk solutions will be used together in hybrid storage systems to provide clients large storage capacity and the ability to access important data faster. Tape technology plays a critical role for large data-retention environments. For example, the media and entertainment industries use this technology because of its reliability, density, cost, and environmental benefits.

SA: Vendors like Fusion-IO and STEC are revitalizing the server market with PCIe-based solutions. How will these technologies impact the business of IBM and other storage array vendors?
Barber: These Flash vendors and others are key partners to IBM. Flash plays a critical role across IBM server, storage and the solutions portfolio in everything from Flash Adapters and SSDs to all-Flash Storage Arrays. The way IBM customers use the technology spans all types of IBM Flash products. And these products can even be used together in IBM solutions, like leveraging IBM's DS8000 Easy Tier capability with IBM Power SSDs for high performance cooperative caching solutions.

SA: What are the top 3 problems that come as a result of using SSDs in enterprise arrays?
Barber: SSD technology delivers Flash in a disk form factor. While SSDs provide performance improvements to server and storage environments, IBM views this as just the starting point in leveraging flash technology. IBM is focused on delivering Flash optimized Storage Systems and Flash Optimized Solutions for our customers.  This will not just include Flash in an SSD form factor, but Flash optimized storage systems like the IBM FlashSystem 820 and an Easy Tier Server for fully-optimized solutions. This will truly allow customers to maximize performance, reduce latency and realize the entire economic value of Flash technology.

SA: In Asia where price sensitivity is even more acute, so do you see these companies taking away business opportunities from IBM? Why?
Barber:  IBM has a broad portfolio of offerings from entry level to enterprise class. For example, we have announced offerings for target markets like China with our Storwize V3500 system. We view countries and markets like these as critical and excellent growth opportunities for IBM. Our commitment to Asia goes far beyond viewing it as just a market.  We've invested heavily in development and manufacturing facilities in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing and other locales.  Additionally, we've moved our key Storage executive team to China in the last few years, to allow them to be closer to our markets of interest.  Not only do we intend on participating in the Asian market, we want to learn from it and leverage its skills and capabilities to further help our clients around the world.

SA: Virtualization has been around for a number of years now. Have we fully grasped and utilized virtualization?
Barber: IBM invented virtualization; we used the technology with our mainframe computers years ago. As with a large number of technologies and products, we have continually advanced and perfected the technology and offer it in a range of products, including our storage portfolio. Our SAN Volume Controller, for example, is used widely by clients to virtualize not just IBM storage systems but other vendors’ systems as well. Using this technology helps clients not only lower management costs and put under-utilized storage systems to work, but it enables clients to venture into cloud storage, as well.

SA: How does server Virtualization affect storage requirements and how does IBM play in this space?
Barber: Server and storage virtualization will continue to go hand in hand as clients look to consolidate and optimize their overall data center environment. IBM is in a unique position to deliver on both server and storage virtualization optimizing entire solutions – similar to what we have done with the IBM PureData solution. 

SA: What’s the next major technology after virtualization?
Barber: We have successfully implemented Software Defined Storage (SDS) 1.0 which is essentially "virtualization." Now we are focused on SDS 2.0 which for IBM saw the introduction of the IBM SmartCloud Virtual Storage Centre and onward to V3.0!

SA: Does IBM have initiatives for handling and Managing Big Data and Data in The Cloud?
Barber: We’re working hard to help clients tackle the challenges of managing Big Data.  This is not a trivial issue.  Researchers say the digital universe is going to expand to more than 40 zettabytes by 2020, about 7 years from now.  What’s going to help clients handle this data deluge are things like better management capabilities, faster performing technologies like Flash, open protocol-based systems like IBM's Storwize systems that will work with any other vendor’s systems, and capabilities to store more with less – technologies like virtualization which we have mentioned in an earlier answer, cloud, de-duplication, IBM's real-time compression for passive and active data designed to work in real-time, and more. So there’s not just one big technology on the horizon, there are lots of things we’re working on to help clients get a handle on Big Data.

SA: What are the problems that you see IT departments face as result of ever growing data growth and are these problems the same in SMBs as they are in Large Corporates?
Barber: Yes, the problems of large organizations are often the same as those of the SMB, just on a smaller scale, of course. So while capacities, resources and costs will be higher with an enterprise, the fundamental issues of managing ever-growing data volumes efficiently and economically are the exact same.

SA: Do you see the same concerns and Issues about Data in South East Asia as you see in the rest of the world?
Barber: South East Asia is experiencing many of the same challenges as clients around the world albeit at a much faster pace, given the explosive growth in the Asian markets.
However, given the current challenging economic environment being experienced in South East Asia and indeed in the global market today, companies in these growth markets need to adopt a smarter approach to storage management of data to maximise their utilisation of IT for their business. Eventually, our goal at IBM in this region is to sell less storage, but to help clients to use more of what clients have.
IBM has an enormous portfolio of use cases – client experiences, research, best practices and solutions – that can be applied to the challenges that this emerging market is experiencing. And we’re working hard to help clients tackle these challenges.

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