Home > IBM, NAS, SAN > A new true Unified storage contender in the market

A new true Unified storage contender in the market

Most folks have heard of Unified storage by now and are well aware of the basic capabilities, namely NAS and SAN in a single box.   NetApp and EMC have been the primary players in this market for some time, and to date have been the only vendors to offer a true Unified solution in the enterprise arena.  In using the term “true Unified”, I’m looking at the technology and determining if it is leveraging a purpose-built storage OS to handle SAN and NAS data delivery to hosts.    There are other vendors out there claiming they have Unified capabilities because it is a compelling feature for customers, but by my definition taking a SAN and throwing on a Windows Storage Server to do CIFS does not count as a true Unified solution.   I’m less concerned about the semantics of whether or not there are truly two code bases in the box, one serving SAN and the other serving NAS, as long as they operate from a common storage pool and have a single-point of management.  


I figured the next vendor with a true Unified solution would be Dell, as multiple signs have been pointing to them integrating some NAS technology they acquired into their existing SAN platforms (Compellent and Equalogic), but surprisingly, the announcement yesterday came from IBM.   IBM took the V7000 array they released last year based on SVC technology and added Unified functionality to it by leveraging their SONAS product (Scale-out NAS).    I consider this to be a pretty major announcement, as NetApp and EMC can no longer claim superiority as the only Unified storage vendors with native solutions.   IBM could sell OEM’d NetApp arrays (N-Series) in the past if the situation warranted, and it will be interesting to see if this announcement is the beginning of the end for the IBM-NTAP OEM relationship.


In the case of the V7000, IBM has integrated the SONAS code into the solution and made one GUI to manage it.   Because the V7000 runs SVC-based code and the NAS is handled by SONAS components, it does not appear to be a unified code-base like NetApp, but two code-bases tied together with a single GUI like the VNX.    From a picture I saw on Tony Pearson’s blog, they are including two IBM servers in the stack (called “File Modules” that are akin to datamovers or Filers) that run active-active sitting in front of the V7000 controllers.  


I had some exposure to SONAS when I worked at a large pharma and saw its development first-hand for a project we undertook but never bought.   IBM hired the guy who created SAMBA (Andrew  Tridgell) to architect an active-active clustered SAMBA architecture to run on top of IBM’s Global Parallel File System (GPFS).   It was a very interesting system, and Andrew Tridgell still ranks as one of the smartest people I have ever met, but back in 2007-2008 it was just a little too new.   Fast forward 3 years and I’m sure the system is much more robust and fully-baked, though I’m not 100% sold on using SAMBA for CIFS access in the enterprise.


Because SONAS/GPFS is a scale-out system, the NAS functionality in the V7000 does have an advantage over EMC and Netapp in that the same file system can be served out of the two File Modules simultaneously.  However, it appears the V7000 may be limited to just two file modules from what I see, unlike a full SONAS/GPFS solution or something like Isilon.


Only time will tell if the V7000 Unified will be successful and IBM will keep development of the product a hot-priority.   Some folks would point to the legacy DS boxes as an example of a technology that was good when it was first released, but then sat for years without any major updates while the technology continued to evolve.   But at least for the immediate future, the V7000 is certainly worthy competition in the Unified space and an example of how competition is good for the industry overall, as it forces the big gorillas to keep on their toes and continue to find new ways to innovate.  


Further reading:



Categories: IBM, NAS, SAN

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