Virtual Vanguard III

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On the face of it, storage virtualization seems like a natural. IT organizations need to make sure organizations have unrestricted access to data from within any application, and the ability to create virtual storage environments opens up competition among storage vendors.

But after talking about this space for a year or more, the overall storage virtualization market has been a disappointment relative to the hype generated around the category. That said, both IBM and EMC think this is the year that storage virtualization goes mainstream, and both companies agree that a software-centric approach to storage virtualization is going to be key.

IBM this week will announce that it has signed its 1,000th customer for its storage virtualization offerings and will tout its plans to leverage storage virtualization to unseat EMC. Included in that plan are a raft of new product introductions that will augment a series of existing products that IBM feels have not received their full due.

EMC, meanwhile, plans ship its first real virtualization offering into the market in the second half of this year.

EMC has been slow to develop a tangible storage virtualization strategy, which is being led by executive vice president Mark Lewis. But Lewis insists that demand for storage virtualization has been slow to develop because the majority of the products out there require customers to deploy new hardware. He says EMC's approach will create virtual storage environments using new software that will be rolled out on top of existing storage hardware, thereby protecting customers' existing hardware investment.

Andy Monshaw, general manager for IBM Storage, takes issue with Lewis by saying that demand for storage virtualization is already kicking into high gear and that EMC's belated approach will do little unlock the proprietary hold EMC has on customers. This is because he contends that unlike the IBM approach, the EMC approach does nothing to unlock EMC's proprietary copy services, which means that EMC customers are still going to be locked into EMC hardware.

Monshaw argues that IBM is taking a truly open approach to storage virtualization that not only encompasses storage management but also includes overall system management tools. Those efforts, he said, will lead to much tighter integration between products developed by IBM's storage unit and the storage, system and network management tools created by Tivoli. Given EMC's comparatively limited software portfolio, Monshaw feels it's only a matter of time before IBM begins making inroads into EMC accounts.

Whatever happens, it's clear that the battle between IBM and EMC over storage is going to probably be the single-biggest fight in the enterprise in 2005. And while these two companies are the titans of the field, how their struggle ultimately affects Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance, Hitachi and others remains to be seen. As the saying goes, when the elephants fight, mice tend to get killed.

As the two biggest storage forces array for battle, all eyes are going to be on Lewis and Monshaw. And once you get past the rhetoric, it will be how these two giants go about executing their respective strategies in the channel that will ultimately decide who is going to win this struggle.

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