IBM Active Cloud Engine Doesn’t Support Cloud, but Maybe in 2012

IBM briefed DCIG on the details around its October Active Cloud Engine product announcement on Wednesday, November 16, of this past week. The briefing covered three functional areas, two products, one statement of direction and ironically nothing about the cloud.  However, IBM deserves kudos for making a big change to its scale out NAS (SONAS) product during its Active Cloud Engine product announcement.

Stephen Edel, IBM product marketing, covered three functional areas:

  • The Active Cloud Engine?
  • Active Cloud Engine local file Management
  • Active Cloud Engine global file Management

Active Cloud Engine is a high performance policy engine designed to place files on appropriate storage globally and locally, according to user or applications data needs. 

For example, Active Cloud Engine can identify and ensure an entire directory and its contents are readable and writable globally. Unfortunately that functionality has been in SONAS for years. So while IBM’s support for its Storwize v7000 Unified product is new, it is hardly worthy of a cloud announcement or product renaming.

IBM Active Cloud Engine PolicyThe SONAS policy engine being renamed to Active Cloud Engine is very “cool“, especially if organizations look past the marketing faux pas of cloud washing. As mentioned above, Active Cloud Engine has two distinct management levels.
 
In Local File Management Active Cloud Engine supports dynamically moving data based on system metadata, e.g. Last accessed, created, etc.  Administrators create policies to move data off to more expensive storage. Data movement is then transparent to users and applications storing their data in the system. 

Local File Management using policies is a nice capability because organizations can move away from managing file systems to managing data policy. Moreover, the system can pay for itself by deleting or moving unwanted data to older or lower cost storage, resulting in capital and operational budget improvements.

Leveraging Active Cloud Engine locally is great for budgets. But, Active Cloud Engine really shines in a global environment supporting traditional file browsing.  Active Cloud Engine Global File Management allows portions of a file system to be cached in multiple locations at one time.  However, you won’t be doing this with Storwize v7000 Unified because it is not supported by Active Cloud Engine Global File Management at this time.

Active Cloud Engine Global File Management for SONAS supports two remote caching options:

  • Read cache – 1 or more nodes at remote sites have read only copies of data
  • Exclusive write cache – Only 1 node at a cache site can make change to data

IBM Active Cloud Engine CacheThe exclusive write cache is a big change for IBM SONAS.  When IBM SONAS was first released, IBM touted it as a multi-writer global file system. It’s clear that with this release and product announcement, IBM realizes SONAS cannot be supported as a multi writer globally available file system.

IBM Global File Management with exclusive writer cache model is a big change.  Expect adoption to occur by mature companies supporting a global workforce that require local access to data wherever they go.

Global File Management is where Active Cloud Engine really shines

IBM envisions end users will use either SONAS or Storwize v7000 Unified as their primary NAS storage systems. However to do so IBM must sell less NAS from their partner NetApp for a couple of reasons. First, SONAS is not designed to support other primary NAS systems as storage pools.  Second, during the briefing, Mr. Edel indicated IBM needed partners to move data from existing vendors to IBM product offerings supporting Active Cloud Engine.

This strong migration language made it clear that IBM intends to aggressively sell Active Cloud Engine in lieu of NetApp.  In addition, DCIG expects IBM to target existing NetApp deployments with heterogeneous migration solutions. 

Specifically, IBM will likely take a cue from Dell and look to partner up with NTP Software.  NTP Software is the best and most widely deployed data management software for NetApp’s largest customers.  (See my prior blog entry: Don’t hit the button: Hoarders love deduplication and compression.)

Ironically, IBM washed out a great product update with poor cloud marketing. IBM’s support for its new cloud storage partner Nirvanix is nonexistent. Further, IBM made it very clear it is not considering Nirvanix as a target storage pool for Active Cloud Engine in the next 12 months.  We can only hope IBM takes a closer look at existing public, private and hybrid cloud offerings before it adds “Cloud” to an already compelling product update.

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Joshua L. Konkle

About Joshua L. Konkle

Vice President DCIG, LLC Joshua Konkle is Vice President at DCIG LLC, an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Konkle has been a business advisor with them since September 2006.

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