IBM Beefs Up Its Cyber-Resilient Storage

IBM IBM

It’s an exciting time for those of us who work in the IT industry. It seems like that no matter where you look, you will find a disruptive technology or trend shaking things up. Some of these are good, others not so much.  Affordable high-speed 5G connectively extends our data centers to the edge while cloud computing is morphing into vendor-driven as-a-service models. Everything is connected, and this has made everything a target. Cyber-security has become a business-critical function. 

The security software company Mimecast recently reported that an astonishing 61% of businesses had experienced a business-disrupting ransomware attack.  As the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack demonstrated earlier this year, these attacks can have a real-world impact. In the case of Colonial, the fuel supply was disrupted along much of the US east coast for nearly two weeks. Data protection matters. 

IBM released a set of storage announcements this week that intersect two of these trends. First, IBM is enhancing its already-rich set of private cloud offerings with new storage-as-a-service options. Second, the company is also bringing some of its mainframe-caliber cyber-security offerings to its FlashSystem products. 

The Virtual Air Gap 

IBM has been in the cyber-security business for almost as long as it’s been in the computer business, which is to say it’s been there from the beginning. There is no more secure environment than that provided by an IBM mainframe. The problem, of course, is that most of us aren’t running the bulk of our workloads on the mainframe. We want mainframe-class cyber-security capabilities on our everyday enterprise storage. Fortunately, IBM is also in the enterprise storage business. 

The absolute safest way to protect data is to take frequent snapshots and keep those snapshots physically separate, or air-gapped, from the rest of the infrastructure. While this should be a critical element of every data protection strategy, it’s a model that doesn’t provide much operational flexibility. IBM addressed this a while back in its mainframe targeted DS8000 storage arrays by introducing IBM’s Safeguarded Copy feature. 

The core idea behind IBM’s Safeguarded Copy is to achieve the same benefit as having an air-gapped copy of your data by making a snapshot immutable, meaning an application can’t modify the data, and build the right level of access controls into that immutable snapshot. This allows for the flexibility of online snapshots but with the peace of mind that only air-gapped backups could previously deliver. 

IBM this week announced that its Safeguarded Copy technology is now available in its mainstream enterprise FlashSystem products. The feature allows for up to 15,000 immutable point-in-time copies of a volume to be stored. Safeguarded copies are thinly provisioned to minimize capacity concerns as logical volumes scale over time and cannot be mounted by a host. 

IBM Copy Services Manager allows for automated management of the immutable snapshots, and is licenses with IBM Spectrum Control, IBM Virtual Storage Center, and IBM Spectrum Storage Suite. It also integrates seamlessly into IBM Spectrum Virtualize. 

One of the benefits of online immutable snapshots is that you can track the integrity of your data over time. IBM provides threat detection and supports data resilience with IBM Security QRadar SIEM. IBM QRadar analyzes event data in real-time for early detection of attacks and data breaches. If an anomaly is detected, it can take a policy-driven approach to manage the Safeguarded Copy snapshots.  That’s a nice integration. 

Storage-as-a-Service 

IT administrators love the cloud model. Resources can be provisioned at the click of a button, while nobody has to write a big check for a new server. However, the reality of cloud, as we’ve all experienced first-hand, can be more challenging. Some data, and some workloads, need to live close to an enterprise’s data center. 

It’s this reality that has pushed nearly every OEM to create an as-a-service offering. It’s also what’s behind public cloud offerings such as Amazon Web Services Outpost, where Amazon will extend its AWS footprint right into your data center. Every major CSP has something in this space that addresses these concerns. 

It’s been a busy couple of months for storage-as-service offerings. Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced a streamlined storage-as-a-service vision when it launched its HPE Alletra platform earlier this year. Just last month, Dell Technologies jumped into the fray with its APEX storage-centric offerings.  Pure Storage has long-played here with its Pure as-a-Service, as has NetApp with its Keystone offerings. It’s a crowded market, but then it’s data that possesses the gravity when discussing cloud models. 

This week IBM builds on its legacy, beefing up its private-cloud and consumption-based infrastructure offerings with a new IBM FlashSystem based storage-as-a-service offering. IBM storage-as-a-service is a consumption-based model, offered with a 100% availability guarantee, and can be supplemented with what IBM is calling concierge support. 

IBM offers three tiers of capabilities, with 25, 50, and 100 TB of minimum usable capacity, with 4500, 2250, and 600 IOPS, respectively. IBM’s pricing will depend upon several factors and allows for contract terms ranging from one to five years. 

There are a couple of things that make IBM’s storage-as-a-service unique. One is IBM’s well-respected support. Customers who purchase concierge service get a range of proactive support goodness, including health checks (including code-level assessments), software currency, best-practices support, regular engagements with case managers, and a host of other nice-to-have perks.

Another unique feature of IBM storage-as-a-service is its integration with IBM Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud. This allows IBM storage-as-a-service to integrate into most enterprise hybrid-multi-cloud architectures seamlessly. 

The Analyst Take 

IBM has strengthened its overall value proposition for mainstream enterprise buyers this week with its SafeGuarded Copy technology.  That’s not to say that there isn’t competition. There is. Pure Storage has the most directly competitive technology with its SafeMode Snapshots, while NetApp and Dell Technologies each have a variation of write-only snapshots.  The power of IBM’s implementation is in its integration with its overall security and monitoring toolchains, such as its integration with IBM QRadar.  I expect this sort of integration to grow over time. 

Having a storage-as-a-service offering has quickly emerged as a must-have for any storage provider. IBM’s offerings here are strong and competitive, especially as IBM delivers the service on its best-in-class FlashSystem arrays.  I like the offering. I particularly like the integration with IBM Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud, as every enterprise now relies on a hybrid multi-cloud architecture. IBM just fits. 

I repeat this nearly every time IBM updates its storage offerings: no other vendor has a more comprehensive enterprise storage and data management story than IBM. Even if we set aside the mainframe, the combination of IBM’s FlashSystem, IBM’s Spectrum Software Suite, and IBM’s hybrid-multi-cloud capabilities are nearly impossible to beat. This week’s announcements only served to solidify that for me. 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.