IBM buys Storwize for primary data compression

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IBM buys Storwize for primary data compression

Dave Raffo, Senior News Director

IBM became the latest storage vendor to set its primary data compression strategy today when it said it will acquire Storwize

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Inc., which sells inline real-time compression appliances for file data.

Rumors first surfaced last month that IBM would acquire Storwize for $140 million. IBM did not disclose financial details today, and said the deal is expected to close by the end of September.

IBM did not give many product roadmap details during its conference call to discuss the deal, but Doug Balog, vice president of IBM Storage, said Storwize is the only vendor whose products "can compress primary data while it is active. Others compress inactive data or data at rest – backup data."

Balog includes NetApp Deduplication in that assessment. NetApp bills its deduplication as being for primary storage, and IBM resells NetApp storage as its N Series NAS platform. Balog said while data deduplication and data compression are complementary, he considers compression the only way to handle primary data.

"We continue to see deduplication as a great answer for inactive data at rest for backup," he said. "This [Storwize] focus is on primary storage. It's a nice complement for NetApp's dedupe."

When asked if NetApp's dedupe was being used for primary storage, Balog said, "Not as far as we've seen."

Growing focus on primary data reduction

Whether it's data deduplication or compression, storage vendors are paying a great deal of attention to primary data reduction these days. The Storwize deal comes less than two weeks after IBM rival Dell Inc. gobbled up Ocarina Networks, which had been considered Storwize's closet competitor for primary data reduction although Ocarina uses deduplication.

In addition, Permabit Technology Corp. last month said it is working with storage vendors on OEM deals for its new embedded deduplication software for primary data, called Albireo High Performance Data Optimization Software. Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. launched its HP StoreOnce deduplication software for backup in June and said it would eventually be used for primary storage. EMC Corp. has also promised compression for block storage for its Clariion and Celerra midrange storage systems in the near future. Compellent Technologies is developing block deduplication for its SAN systems.

Today, the Storwize STN-6000 appliance sits in front of NAS systems, including the IBM N series and Scale Out Network Attached Storage (SONAS). Balog also talked of using Storwize technology to improve the efficiency of IBM's XIV block storage system. Storwize has been beta testing block-level compression to go with its current file compression technology.

"The engine is the same across block and file data," said Steve Kenniston, Storwize's vice president of technology strategy. "We have a block solution in beta today and we continue to test this technology. As we move forward, we'll determine how this further complements technology that IBM has in its portfolio."

IBM already supports backup deduplication technology in its ProtecTier virtual tape library (VTL) software and Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) application. Its DB2 and Informix databases support real-time compression.

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, agrees with the IBM and Storwize executives that data compression and deduplication have different uses.

"Dedupe is good for backup," he said. "However, the online and active compression that Storwize does is a better fit for databases or other NAS types of deployment scenarios where the focus is more on performance or data transfer rates vs. space-saving data reduction ratios. If IBM can keep the dedupers dancing on their side of the room for backup, archive and others with their Diligent, Tivoli and other products while focusing Storwize on online active NAS where performance is more of a concern, they should have a good story.

"The same [can be said] with Dell," he continued. "The key will be for both companies to keep the objective of data footprint reduction and then aligning the applicable technology or technique to the task at hand vs. simply answering dedupe to every question."

Analyst: IBM improving storage utilization

Greg Richardson, an analyst at Technology Business Research, wrote in a research note today that IBM's move reflects a focus on improving storage utilization and efficiency.

"Customers are increasingly focusing on leveraging storage utilization tools to help improve the efficiency of the storage they already own, leading large vendors, such as IBM, to shift their portfolios toward offerings that provide this functionality," Richardson wrote. "With the integration of Storwize into its storage portfolio, IBM is pulling the focus away from the capacity capabilities of its storage offerings and pointing customers to the increased utilization, flexibility, and cost savings that a storage appliance can add."

IBM executives said they will keep the Storwize executives, including CEO Ed Walsh, and the workforce. That includes a development team in Israel. Storwize's corporate headquarters are located in Marlborough, Mass.