IBM has made big play of its push into virtualisation this year, only last week announcing more disk storage systems.

But while Big Blue is certain of its strategy - that a single view of all products in a heterogeneous environment is what companies want and need - the giant's actual customers may not be so convinced.

When John Dick, CIO at Regions Financial Corp - one of IBM's representative customers at last week's product announcement - was asked if virtualisation interested him, his response was telling: "I don't think it's really a big deal for us."

Dick isn't alone. While users say virtualisation may someday help them consolidate and prolong the life of their storage assets by creating a layer of abstraction between management software and the boxes behind it, few are rushing to plug into the technology.

If you asked any of the top storage vendors to provide customer examples of heterogeneous storage environments that are pooling assets through virtualisation, they would be hard-pressed to find you one.

"I've not spoken to any customer using SVC in a heterogeneous environment," said Tony Asaro, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "Every customer I speak to, it's just not something they want."

Customers shy from virtualisation technology as much for political as technical reasons, Asaro said. For example, if a systems administrator puts EMC's Clariion arrays behind a TagmaStore array from Hitachi, which company do you call when the Clariion has a hiccup? Asaro said users are also wary of voiding their warranties by plugging together devices from different vendors.

IBM is just the latest of the top external storage vendors to claim virtualisation victory. This past spring, EMC said at its annual user conference in Orlando that it's developing an enterprise-class "storage router" device that will include virtualisation software. EMC said this week that the router is in beta testing and will be generally available in the second quarter of 2005.

Not to be outdone, Hitachi last month introduced along with its new TagmaStore Universal Storage System an application called the Universal Virtualization Layer (UVS) to pool storage from IBM, EMC and other vendors.

Currently, Hitachi's software only pools storage from its own arrays, but CTO Hu Yoshida said yesterday that UVS will virtualise competitors' arrays by the end of the year.

Yoshida said Hitachi offers the only software that doesn't create a "bump" in the network because its software is loaded directly onto the controller in the TagmaStore array and doesn't reside on an appliance or switch.

"It doesn't void the warranties the way we do it. It's attached to external storage through the Fibre Channel standard. It's no different from Veritas' Volume Manager software. We're not cracking the box open or changing anything in the box," he said.

Analysts agree that virtualisation technology is the cornerstone to creating an information lifecycle management architecture, the policy-based management of data back-up and archiving across tiers of storage for economy and efficiency. "Virtualisation is key to getting an affordable environment in place," said Marc Farley, president of Building Storage, aconsulting company that specialises in network storage.

But like any new technology, Asaro said, it takes a long time before the adoption cycle is mature and widespread. "We're beginning to see early adopters see real benefit from virtualisation, where they can quantify cost savings and efficiencies," he said. "This is something that changes the way we do storage networking."