IBM embraced server based storage back in the 1990s when they announced the Enterprise Storage Server (better known as The Shark). At it’s heart were two Power Servers running AIX. By using AIX on Power, IBM was able to deploy its own technology in a new and exciting way. Far more importantly though, they were able to keep pushing the Storage performance envelope by employing advances coming out of its Power Systems development teams. Thus the Shark saw multiple technology refreshes with new versions of Power hardware and new versions of the AIX Operating System running at it’s heart. When the DS8000 came out in 2004 it kept up that same tradition by using first Power5 and then Power6 technology. In December 2010, the DS8800 set a record for SPC2 benchmarks and part of that success can be directly attributed to the high performance capabilities of Power Systems and AIX. If you are familiar with the Power development roadmap, you will know that that technology continues to move ahead in leaps and bounds and the DS8000 will continue leaping with it.
So while the DS8000 shows what you can achieve with Power Systems technology, IBM also recognized that Linux on Intel based solutions can also achieve great things. The SAN Volume Controller (or SVC) was released in June 2003 using System x servers and software based upon the Linux operating system. When IBM offered the SVC in a new Storage Bridge Bay (SBB) form factor as the Storwize V7000, it of course continued to employ Linux to drive that technology. Meanwhile the IBM XIV Storage System is another example of what you can achieve using Linux as a base on Intel technology. By creating a cluster of up to 15 Intel Servers running Linux, the IBM XIV takes the meaning of scaling up to a whole new level. In the NAS space IBM’s SONAS also leverages IBM’s investment in Linux, using it as a base throughout.
The nice thing from an end-user perspective, is that regardless of what technology you’re using: DS8000, Storwize V7000, SVC, SONAS or XIV, you don’t actually have to worry about the internal Operating System. In fact the management of the Operating System is left to the device itself, making them appliances rather than systems you need to manage.
Now you may be thinking: Linux comes in distributions, which distribution is IBM using? The answer is that IBM use a purpose optimized Linux operating environment intended to be ’embedded’ within an IBM hardware product. They have done so in projects as diverse as high-throughput check scanning in the banking industry, many forms of storage hardware, Hardware Management Consoles and embedded onto flashcards.
So Linux and AIX are fantastic as a reliable and highly capable base onto which IBM can build the capabilities of a product. But if your thinking, well I can install Linux or AIX too… Remember that all that is then left to do is to write the millions of lines of code to run on top of it. The code that adds all those fantastic capabilities and reliability that you expect from a storage platform. That is if you want to create something truly special.
Or you could just talk to IBM.