The partnership between these two suppliers is not widely known, despite IBM being VMWare’s largest customer and oldest partner and the 2 sharing 20k customers in common. Their colloaboration has some broad and important industry implications.
The broad collaboration involves a widespread adoption of VMWare API’s by IBM including VASA, which we believe is vitally imporant for the storage hypervisor market. It also includes specific developments such as:

  • The recent extension of the maximum sistance covered by its Stretched Cluster from 10km to 300km, increasing the usability of vMotion and
  • In VDI, where the thin provisioning of snap copies of common gold boot images is important for efficiency, its Easy Tier software has been integrated in View Creator to reduce both the latency and cost.

In the near-term future we will see IBM certifying its software for VMware’s Metro Storage Clustering (vMSC) – allowing live-migration of VMs over short distances, while expanding the number of its offerings working over ‘geographic’ vMotion distances of 300km. It will also integrate its technology with VMware’s Pluggable Storage Architecture (PSA) – a multipathing programme allowing algorithms included on the server hypervisor to be offloaded.
In the longer term we expect IBM to build on the demonstration of VVOL integration at VMWorld in 2011, as well as VASA API integration, which will allow users to define and segment storage, providing automatic tiering between different levels and easing the use of Solid State Disks (SSDs), front-side caching and other new technologies.
IBM will also continue to develop plug-ins to allow its software products into vCenter and vSphere, demonstrating the subservience here of its storage hypervisors to VMWare’s server hypervisor ecosystem.
Of course IBM and VMWare are very different vendors in terms of size, history and product breadth. In particular:

  • IBM is a full-range enterprise supplier and, like many storage systems suppliers, is keen to sell its own arrays; supporting the integration of other vendors’ arrays with SVC it has moved to the head of the storage hypervisor movement, but clearly it cannot be as agnostic as its partner in the choice of hardware used in its customers’ virtual computing developments; VMWare’s is just one of a number of environments being addressed by IBM – others include its own Power processor based server, as well as the partnership with Red Hat for KVM used mainly on Linux based servers
  • VMWare is an x86 server hypervisor and management software company working exclusively in the virtualisation market; like other software companies it is publicly agnostic in its partnerships which extend to hundreds of hardware and other software suppliers; its ecosystem is not only the strongest in the virtualisation market, but matches Microsoft’s in enterprise computing overall

The 2 companies are alike in their deep technological expertise and approach. IBM has specific products linked to VMWare’s APIs and managed as plug-ins within vCenter and vSphere, which should make them relatively easy for customers to adopt. However we also believe they will need to address a number of ‘go-to-market’ issues to make common products easier to sell. For IBM’s storage hypervisor strategy to succeed it’s also important to balance its software and hardware businesses carefully, concentrating on hardware features which work well in virtualised environments and are easy to integrate. However successful its storage hypervisor software sales become, they are unlikely to overtake its storage systems hardware revenues. Despite being the world’s 3rd largest software vendor, IBM could lose out to a smaller software-only vendor, as it did to VMWare itself in the x86 server market 10 years ago.
Storage hypervisors have relevance to our virtualisation, data intelligence, resource efficiency and go-to-market themes. The suppliers pursuing the concept are undoubtedly rainmakers if they succeed in bringing the kinds of advantages VMware has delivered in the server market.

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