IBM is getting into flash storage in a big way with its planned acquisition of Texas Memory Systems, a pioneer in the development of shared rackmount and server-based PCIe flash storage technology.
With the acquisition, IBM gets a head start on its top system competitors, and it is better positioned to compete head to head with storage rival EMC, as well as a host of startups, in the fast-growing flash storage market.
Texas Memory Systems, or TMS, was founded in 1978, making it the granddaddy of the flash storage market. It is best known for its RamSan family of storage devices, including rackmount flash storage ranging from a 1U, 10-TB model to a 42U, 140-TB system.
TMS also will bring to IBM a series of low-latency SSDs, as well as high-speed PCIe-based flash storage devices that plug into industry-standard servers.
IBM declined to discuss financial terms of the deal, which it expects to close later this year.
To date, the flash storage market has been dominated by smaller companies, primarily startups, who have introduced a variety of devices ranging from PCIe devices to SSDs to full-fledged arrays featuring either all-flash storage or a mix of flash storage and spinning disks.
In terms of the major storage vendors, EMC has grabbed the lead thanks to a strategy of offering flash storage in as many forms as possible.
EMC was the first top-tier storage to adopt SSDs in its arrays over three years ago. Since then, EMC has introduced its VFCache PCIe device, which combines its software and hardware from LSI; acquired startup all-flash-based array developer XtremIO; and unveiled plans to release its "Project Thunder" network-attached flash storage appliance.
Other top-tier storage vendors have started adding flash storage to their offerings, such as Hewlett-Packard's move to introduce an all-flash version of its 3PAR storage array, or NetApp's collaboration with flash storage vendor Fusion-io.
However, assuming its acquisition of TMS closes as planned, IBM will rank with EMC as a top-tier storage vendor with its own multifaceted flash storage technology.
Why IBM chose TMS
TMS presented IBM with the opportunity to get a complete product line with a well-established market presence, said Robert Cancilla, vice president and business line executive for IBM systems storage.
"We've had our share of startups," Cancilla said. "Some have been good, some not as good. We looked at a ton of startups. But, we felt none of them offered the market presence and technology that TMS did."
TMS has a viable and a profitable flash storage business, and unlike most startups, it brings a complete flash storage offering instead of a single piece of the puzzle, Cancilla said. "TMS's only weakness is in its marketing," he said. "We feel IBM can ramp up TMS quickly."
IBM has been looking at how to best integrate flash storage in its arrays, in its servers via PCIe, and in its applications including its Netezza data warehousing appliance, Cancilla said.
But, the first integration of TMS technology once the acquisition closes will probably be in the IBM PureSystems converged infrastructure architecture that combines the company's server, storage, networking and management technologies into a single integrated platform, he said.
Until the acquisition closes, IBM and TMS will operate as separate companies, Cancilla said. Holly Frost, founder and CEO of TMS, will continue to run TMS until the acquisition, and IBM fully hopes Frost will continue to be an active part of its storage team afterwards, Cancilla said.
After the close, IBM plans to continue to make TMS flash storage products available as stand-alone offerings while integrating them into IBM's storage and server technologies, he said.