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Taneja Blog / Data Center Systems

IBM peppers many storage products with Real-time Compression

You may recall that three years ago IBM picked up a small Israeli company named Storwize. That company sold an inline compression engine that sat in front of a NAS box and compressed/decompressed file data traversing the network. Its claim to fame was that it was 100% transparent to the application making the NFS call and, while it was indeed inline, it had zero impact on application performance. In fact, since the amount of data sitting on the storage box was approximately 1/3 the original size (average compression factor 3:1), reads were faster from the disk. And since the Storwize box itself added only marginal latency, while it decompressed the data, the overall performance improved. Up until then, compression engines, which had been around for three decades or more, had always delivered compression at the expense of performance. That was simply the price one paid. Storwize broke the barrier for the first time.

After IBM purchased the company, we wondered how long it would take the company to realize that if this software could be integrated into the storage device itself and still achieve compression ratios in the 3:1 range, without performance impact, it would instantly give IBM an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Additionally, we wondered if the technology was applicable to compress block data just as it was to file data. Then it could be integrated into all block and file storage devices.

Fast forward to now. IBM has already integrated this software (now called Real-time Compression, or RTC) into their virtualization offering, SAN Volume Controller, and most recently, into Storwize V7000 storage model, that is based on SVC. That means they have established that it works with block data as well. How long before we see this technology in the DS-8000 series, DS-4000 and DS-XXXX series? And XIV is another natural. As would SoNAS be? And wouldn't it be interesting if IBM found a way to integrate RTC into the N-Series, which is OEM'd from NetApp. It would instantly differentiate them from NetApp's own FAS offering, an advantage that could mean winning business from NetApp in those sticky situations where both IBM and NetApp showed up. Of course, the appliance version of RTC has remained available since the Storwize acquisition and IBM continues to enjoy that differentiation. But an RTC-integrated N-Series would be something else.

Lest we forget a 3:1 advantage in primary storage, especially in the high-end where prices in the $10-30/GB are not uncommon, is extremely valuable to a customer. But not if that price advantage came at expense of decreased performance or increased latency. The fact that RTC delivers on both counts, gives IBM a huge advantage that cannot be underestimated. An instant 3:1 advantage in prices. What's not to like? We believe IBM needs to exploit this advantage to the maximum. We are not aware of any other vendor in the market place with anything close to this capability. Of course, there are compression offerings available but these are mostly for secondary data (backup to tape or disk) or for primary data but at a post-processing level.

To be sure, IBM has not yet announced integrated RTC for products other than SVC and V7000. IBM is targeting active primary data (database, email, server virtualization) as the best environment for real-time compression. Tests and customer data have shown little if any impact on performance. It is yet unclear if this statement is true for other products. If it does IBM will enjoy an unprecedented advantage. If the offering is restricted only to SVC and V7000, well, that is a pretty solid position too, given that the other situations can be dealt with the appliance version of RTC. In that situation it would not be a barn burner but a distinct advantage, nevertheless.

RTC is a rare gem. We expect IBM is internally jumping through the hoops to get it integrated across the board. Competition, take note!

More info here:

  • Premiered: 07/19/12
  • Author: Arun Taneja
Topic(s): Real-time Compression RTC SVC V7000 IBM Storwize NAS NFS


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