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Got Storage? Not Nearly Enough, Say Big IT Firms Pitching to the Life Science Market

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Depicted as everything from an “explosion” to a “tsunami” to a “landslide” of information at conferences across the globe, the recent surge of post-genomic data may be a headache for R&D departments, but it could prove to be a windfall for IT firms peddling storage solutions.

In the past couple of weeks, both IBM and EMC have come to the rescue of life science customers generally characterized as hapless victims of a biblical-scale natural disaster: At the IBC Drug Discovery Technology meeting in Boston two weeks ago, IBM unveiled a trio of pre-configured network storage solutions for the life sciences. Then last week, EMC introduced the mid-tier Clariion CX600 enterprise storage solution, which the company said is ideally suited for life science researchers.

Why the sudden interest? Simple: “Customers were asking for it,” said Kathy Smith, IBM’s vice president of storage solutions.

While IBM has been in the data management business for decades, and the company has built a number of customized storage systems for life science customers, “What’s new is that [the life science storage solution] is preconfigured and validated for interoperability,” explained Smith.

The company has put together a blueprint for the storage infrastructure, based on its DB2 database and Tivoli systems management platforms, and has developed three configurations for different types of life science customers — an entry-level architecture for smaller research groups, a middle-tier platform, and a large enterprise solution (see p. 12). The enterprise solution includes the company’s new “Shark” Enterprise Storage Server (ESS) 800, which boasts a 2 Gb/s data transfer rate. “Now data can be shared worldwide at a reasonable rate,” said Smith.

Another feature of the system is what IBM terms “virtualization,” which “hides some of the back-end complexity of the storage network, or adds or integrates new functionality with existing back end services,” according to Samad Moini, senior solutions executive for IBM’s storage systems group. The life sciences storage solutions allows researchers to store results in “pools” of commonly shared knowledge that are administered from a centralized point using the Tivoli software.

But while IBM has drawn from its formidable toolbox to fashion a set of options that spans the entire breadth of the life science market, EMC has taken a focused and targeted approach with the launch of the CX600. The system is carefully positioned at the top end of the company’s mid-tier Clariion storage platform line and is geared toward small- to mid-sized biotechs, but is also applicable to larger pharmaceutical firms, depending on their research needs, according to Roberta Katz, EMC’s director of global life sciences.

The system is highly scalable, Katz said, to suit the needs of young companies whose research activities and subsequent storage needs will likely change over time. The entry-level list price of the CX600 is $115,000, and customers can incrementally add to the system, “a few thousand dollars at a time,” up to a storage capacity of 17.5 TB, said Jay Krone, EMC’s director of Clariion product marketing.

Another feature of the system that should appeal to life science researchers is its 1,300 MB/s bandwidth, an almost three-fold improvement over its predecessor, the FC4700, Krone said. The data access and mobility of the CX600 makes it a good option for dynamic research data. For long-term storage of “fixed content” — data that won’t change but must be kept on hand for regulatory purposes — the company recommends the Centera content-addressed storage system it launched in May. “If your data is still moving and changing, store it on a Clariion. Once you have the answer, move it to Centera,” said Krone.

EMC isn’t concerned that IBM is moving onto its turf in the life science storage market. While IBM offers a broad range of IT solutions, “We are the only company out there dedicated to comprehensive storage solutions,” said Katz.

IBM’s Smith says the company’s solution stands out from those offered by EMC and others, because it is an open, Linux-based system. Smith posited that the life sciences data storage field is still wide open, and said she had no doubt that IBM “will be the true leader.”

The two companies’ chances of gaining a significant segment of the life science storage market could boil down to customer needs in the stagnant economic landscape, according to Pete Gerr, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group, an independent storage industry analysis firm. IBM’s solutions-based approach “could work well in large enterprises that have a good understanding of their entire infrastructure … and a CIO or CTO who appreciates packaged solutions with services.”

However, Gerr questioned whether the more “resource-constrained” customers that make up the middle segment of the market would be willing or able to pay for the services component of IBM’s solution right now. On the other hand, Gerr pointed out, EMC’s focus on “doing one thing better than anyone else” served it very well “until a couple of years ago.” Now, Gerr said, “IBM’s diversity allows them to absorb short-term price wars for the benefit of gaining market share.”

In addition, both companies face competition from Network Appliance, which holds a minority of the general-purpose networked storage market, but is a popular choice for the life science compute farm crowd.

IBM said that two customers are testing its enterprise-scale storage system, and that it expects to formally announce these deals some time in September when it plans a full-on launch of the products. Neurome, a contract brain research firm based in La Jolla, Calif., recently installed a mid-range storage configuration from IBM after evaluating similar products from Compaq and EMC, according to CTO Warren Young. The year-old company has 7.2 TB now, but with several workstations working around the clock, churning out 50-100 GB of data each per day, Young said he anticipates expanding the company’s storage capacity every two years. If Neurome’s plans reflect the rest of the industry, it seems there might be enough data in that post-genomic deluge to keep plenty of storage solution vendors busy — and in business — for a while.

— BT

IBM's Life Science Storage Configurations

· Small: TotalStorage FastT500 midrange disk for storage, TotalStorage Linear Tape Open (LTO) midrange tape storage for archiving and backup, eServer p630 for applications. Priced at $80,000-$140,000.

· Medium: TotalStorage FastT500 midrange disk, TotalStorage LTO storage, IBM Network Attached Storage 300G for file-serving from the SAN, eServer pSeries for applications. Priced at $210,000-$335,000.

· Large: TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server for storage, NAS 300 and NAS 300G, Total Storage LTO, eServer pSeries and xSeries for applications. Priced “less than” $1.2 million.

EMC's Clariion CX600 Features

· Available in rackmount configuration supporting from five to 240 disks, with total raw capacity of up to 17.5 TB

· Supports 4 GB or 8 GB of cache memory

· 1,300 MB/s bandwidth

· 150,000 cached I/Os per second

· Entry-level system is priced at $115,000 for 180 GB capacity. Upper end is $800,000

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