Too much of a Good Thing? IBM Buys Cleversafe

The industry is mesmerized by all things flash and sometimes forgets that IT professionals have other challenges to face than just meeting the performance demands of the modern data center. One of those is dealing with unstructured data. Data centers are drowning in data and are looking for solutions that can cost-effectively and reliably, store all of it. Despite its slower than expected adoption rate, object storage remains an ideal way to store and retain all the data that organizations capture. To that end, IBM has purchased one of the top companies in the object storage market; Cleversafe.

Was this a good move for IBM?

IBM already has several solutions designed to deal with unstructured data. First they have their General Parallel File System (GPFS), a high-performance clustered file system that is deployable in shared-disk or shared-nothing distributed parallel modes. IBM will position GPFS for situations where response time is more critical while positioning Cleversafe for long-term, durable data storage. IBM also has done some integration with OpenStack Swift in the past but given Cleversafe’s OpenStack integration, it is doubtful that it will continue. There is overlap but yes, it was a good move for IBM. They needed a more complete Object Storage offering and Cleversafe gives that to them.

Will IBM be Successful?

As far as acquirers of technology IBM has been “OK”. They buy solid companies (like Texas Memory Systems) and they don’t ruin them, but they don’t achieve the “1+1=3” goal that should be the objective of any purchase. This is especially a problem because object storage and unstructured data is not as high profile as flash and storage performance are, success in object storage requires great technology and focused, consistent, long-term market execution. None of which IBM has shown to have lately.

The object storage market will eventually be successful thanks to its ability to handle unstructured data. EMC and HDS both seem to make progress with their respective object storage solution, but NetApp appears to have struggled with its StorageGrid solution.

The big question is will IBM be successful with Cleversafe? The answer to this issue is unclear. IBM has not shown a continued focus on storage. They have repeatedly changed messaging and even product branding in hopes that they will stumble on the right catch phrase. Object storage requires even higher focus and consistency, so there is a reason for concern.

StorageSwiss Take

There is no question that IBM bought a high-quality solution that is ready for prime time right now. They have a track record of “first doing no harm” with their acquisitions but not a record of “1+1=3”. “3” is achieved by adding a product to a portfolio and making it something more. Our take is that Cleversafe current customers should feel safe and secure knowing that what they have today will continue and slowly progress forward, as well as being something they can count on long term. HDS and EMC, as organizations, however, should feel confident that one of their toughest competitors may be irrelevant in future opportunities.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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One comment on “Too much of a Good Thing? IBM Buys Cleversafe
  1. Tim Wessels says:

    Well, Cleversafe’s 350 patents on various aspects of object storage might have been an inducement. Almost every other month Cleversafe is being awarded patents. The company also has a litigious history with Amplidata, with each company filing suits and counter suits against the other. It may have something to do with the fact that both Cleversafe and Amplidata, which was recently acquired by HGST, both rely on erasure coding to protect data. Cleversafe’s funding rounds also seem a bit odd if you look at the timing timing and the amounts. One funding round included an investment by a company connected to or controlled by the CIA, which may be one of Cleversafe’s larger customers.

    Cleversafe is a “bigger dog” among the group of pure play object-based storage software vendors that includes, Caringo, Cloudian, Scality and SwiftStack. With over 200 employees and approx. $130M in funding, Cleversafe pitches their object storage for customers with PB needs at the get-go, although Cleversafe partners say deals for hundreds of TBs are common. I agree with Mr. Crump that IBM had nothing going in the object-based storage market. GPFS is not an object-based data storage solution, and dabbling in OpenStack Swift was not going anywhere. We will have to wait and see what “synergies” emerge from IBM’s acquisition of Cleversafe, but it does validate that the market for object-based storage.

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