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IBM hybrid storage play acknowledges enterprise realities

The recent IBM hybrid storage push aims to court enterprise clients with resources on premises and in the public cloud -- and offer something AWS doesn't.

Big Blue has been behind the curve with cloud storage, but its betting a hybrid approach will appeal to enterprises still reliant on their own data centers.

IBM is extending all-flash and block storage through its Spectrum Storage Suite, so data can be housed on premises or in the cloud. That expanded service comes weeks after IBM made its Cleversafe on-premises object storage available on its public cloud.

The Cleversafe expansion, now called IBM Cloud Object Storage, is coupled with an open trial of cross-region replication in an attempt to catch up to what Amazon and others have done to make object storage a staple of public cloud.

Systems such as file and block storage weren't designed to deal with petabytes of data and file counts that can climb into the trillions, but object storage is ideally suited for metadata capabilities and rich database capabilities needed to automate data management, said Steven Hill, senior storage technologies analyst with 451 Research.

"[Amazon Web Services] S3 [Simple Storage Service] storage has really dominated the cloud storage market, and what IBM has come around to understand is picking up the value of what object storage does and trying to do it better in cloud than Amazon is doing," Hill said.

In some scenarios, whether regulatory or financial, it makes more sense to continue to store data on premises, so the IBM hybrid storage approach will be attractive to customers that aren't all-in on public cloud, said Patrick Harr, CEO of Panzura, a cloud storage provider based in Campbell, Calif., that partners with IBM, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others. That approach, in conjunction with this latest push around multiregion object storage, will only help sway customers to adopt its public cloud resources, he added.

"When you match that with key things they do in analytics, IBM is becoming a strong up-and-comer in the space," Harr said.

S3 costs between $0.028 and $0.03 per gigabyte, per month, but moving it from S3 to another region can cost up to an additional $0.02 per gigabyte -- and twice that much using the accelerator feature. The IBM storage, including the cross-region replication, costs between $0.385 and $0.041 per gigabyte, per month.

IBM has more than 40 data centers around the world, and it has technology through its 2014 acquisition of Aspera that provides for high-speed data transfers. It's possible to take a different approach to storage and theoretically offer something cheaper to take on Amazon in a market it dominates, but it will come down to how the service works in practice, Hill said.

"When you start moving it and protecting it, and do it cheaper than Amazon, that's a big play," Hill said.

And since most applications aren't based on object storage and many IBM customers aren't familiar with it, this hybrid approach greases the skids to make it more approachable to users, he said.

Hybrid, hybrid, hybrid

IBM's moves around Spectrum, meanwhile, are less about competing with Amazon and more about convenience for customers with consistent capabilities and a common management, regardless of where the data resides, Hill said.

"IBM always asks the question, 'Is it best to bring the data to the app, or the app to the data?'" Hill said. "Ultimately, this is about IBM increasing the footprint of Spectrum Virtualize and Spectrum Scale so that customers at least have the choice of standardizing on Spectrum, regardless if they want to stay on-prem or off."

IBM will be hard-pressed to compete against the likes of AWS on price, so amid its focus on top-tier clients, this hybrid push is intended to capitalize on its existing advantages over pure public cloud providers, said Jeff Kato, senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group Inc., based in Hopkinton, Mass.

"People do want, or are going to want, some of their data on premises, and they're always going to want that," Kato said. "By having a true bridge to on-prem and off-prem, they do provide a core set of capabilities and guaranteed reliability to leverage services to make sure they run across the board, and that's going to be valuable."

SoftLayer comes under Bluemix umbrella

The IBM hybrid storage capabilities come at the same time the vendor rebrands its public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering, SoftLayer. IBM bought SoftLayer in 2013 for $2 billion at a time when legacy vendors were rushing to add public cloud capabilities and compete with upstart AWS.

Since then, SoftLayer's bare-metal offering has maintained its niche with gaming companies and others that covet the capability, but it hasn't made a huge dent in the public cloud market, and there have been grumblings that the service has been neglected as competitors further expand their infrastructure capabilities.

IBM said SoftLayer will be more tightly integrated into Bluemix, its platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, and shifting the focus to higher-level services fits in line with what the other major public cloud providers have emphasized over the past year.

IBM needed a clearer IaaS and PaaS brand, and bringing these two brands together will help when users want a full stack to build and deploy an application, said Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst with Constellation Research Inc. However, this may confuse those looking to do PaaS on multiple clouds, which Bluemix can do, and those who see the Bluemix brand, but only want IaaS.

"Simplification is always good -- but this may go one step to far," he said.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Contact him at [email protected].

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