IBM aims to poach EMC and other competitor drive array customers by offering a disk hardware migration service with little host server or production application downtime. A portable hardware appliance, using so-called 'Piper' technology, which IBM calls its 'secret weapon', is used to transfer data from EMC drives to IBM ones. It has its own network links to avoid product networks being affected by potentially terabytes of transfer data. There is a mainframe-based version for use in mainframe ESCON environments and an open systems version for other environments. This latter device is a half-rack cabinet on wheels with Fibre Channel (FC) switches, an Ethernet hub, eight data migration engines and a dual power supply. Drive arrays can be connected by either FC, SCSI or serial storage architecture (SSA). The mainframe appliance is a full rack height cabinet on wheels.

The appliance approach with its own dedicated network links reduces the migration impact on host servers and network links. The appliance is connected between the existing storage devices and the new ones.

IBM says 'minimal system downtime' is required for the insertion of the appliance into the data path. Once installed the migration begins and application I/Os are sent to either the existing or the new arrays by the appliance software which keeps track of where the data is located.

IBM says that its data migration services 'are designed to migrate data from many different storage' vendors including Amdahl, Dell and EMC, Fujitsu, LSI, StorageTek and Sun.' But EMC is the first target.

The EMC attack includes more than 100 professional services staff to help customers switch, not a large number of people in terms of IBM's multi-hundred thousand headcount. There is also modelling software to calculate the cost advantages of IBM arrays over the EMC alternatives.

The IBM programme will begin with a focus on high end drives; Symmetrix to Shark transfer.

Recently IBM and EMC agreed to exchange storage APIs to facilitate better interoperability for customers using both companis' products. At the time EMC's executive vice president for storage platforms, Dave Donateli, said, "We're competitors and we're going to continue to compete, but we're going to make it easier for customers."

IBM's general manager of its storage business, Dan Colby, was reported as saying, "We see interoperable systems as kind of the first step in a truly open storage environment." He now says, "This migration programme is designed to help customers realise the substantial technology and cost benefits offered by IBM storage products."

The company says that recent converts from EMC to IBM drives include Royal Caribbean and the United States Department of Agriculture. IBM could perhaps do with customers migrating to its disks. In its quarterly results IBM claimed its hardware revenues from storage increased just 6 per cent year-on-year. EMC claimed that its equivalent results grew 21 per cent, over three times as fast.

IBM has introduced a white paper, entitled 'IBM hardware-assisted data migration services' in which it positions the appliance as better than either tape-based data transfer or software-based transfer because both these methods involve disruption to production servers and applications.

IBM Canada's Professional Services organisation offers the service already.