On October 5, 2015, IBM announced its intention to acquire Cleversafe, an object file system vendor based in Chicago, IL. The transaction is expected to close later in 2015. To date, Cleversafe has received just over $100M in funding, with its most recent round of $55M arriving in August, 2013.

Founded in 2004, Cleversafe was one of the very first object file system vendors in the enterprise data world. Its claim to fame is its ability to provide geo-distributed scale-out storage throughout the network for resilience, high performance and high availability.

In January, 2015, Neuralytix’s Object Storage iQ ranked Cleversafe in our lowest category of “up and coming” based primarily on Cleversafe’s inability to support third party storage. (In full disclosure, Cleversafe protested saying that it had multiple installations with third-party storage attached, but it did not provide documentation to support that specific claim.)

Neuralytix believes that IBM’s acquisition of Cleversafe is a positive move by IBM. IBM had struggled with its previous scale-out NAS solution (aptly named SoNAS, for Scale-out Network Attached Storage.) SoNAS leveraged IBM-developed GPFS (Global Parallel File System), which was originally developed for scale-out high performance computing (HPC) workloads, as the underlying file system. Since then, SoNAS became Elastic Storage Server (ESS), which is now the Spectrum Scale product within IBM’s Spectrum portfolio of storage software. Also, we note that GPFS is deployed, not only in HPC sites, but also in enterprise networks to support scale-out x86 infrastructure.

Leveraging the Distributed File System (DFS) for Hybrid Clouds

The difference here is that IBM intends to leverage Cleversafe’s distributed file system to support hybrid clouds, and their software-defined infrastructure. In this way, data can be served close to processing points throughout the network, data can be localized, and data can be protected through Cleversafe’s patented data-slicing that leverages erasure coding technology.

A File System for Data Capacity-Intensive Workloads

One driver for the acquisition was that IBM’s major competitors all had viable (if not stand-out) scale-out software-defined storage offerings. Cleversafe software provides aggregation and geo-distribution of secondary storage, which is needed for data capacity-intensive workloads in health care, insurance, science and financial services. In addition, these features will help IBM to complete its portfolio in supporting unstructured data in NoSQL databases and the Internet of Things (IoT).

In the announcement call with analysts, IBM said it plans to keep the Cleversafe business unit intact, to get the maximum benefit from its 350+ patents in file-based storage.

A Step in the Right Direction for Software-Defined Computing

Neuralytix believes that this acquisition represents a step in the right direction for IBM. The storage portfolio had been overly hardware-centric – with the exception of its IBM Spectrum series of optimization software for virtualization, acceleration and other storage services. Neuralytix expects to see little overlap in features between IBM’s existing portfolio and Cleversafe, making it a net-add on storage technology for the cloud, while enhancing IBM’s ongoing Spectrum Storage strategy. Its support for OpenStack and industry-standard APIs will allow simpler integration of the Cleversafe software for web-scale computing.

As part of IBM’s cloud services strategy, Cleversafe can be paired with IBM’s SoftLayer IaaS offering, and its BlueMix PaaS offering, for on-premise/off-premise hybrid computing. Its data capacity reaches into the hundreds of PB – giving enterprises and CSPs room to grow as they generate, manage and maintain large data pools across cloud and on-premises resources.

It’s important to note that Cleversafe’s OpenStack support fits well with IBM’s developer strategy, where both OpenStack and Cloud Foundry are used to ease deployment in DevOps teams. By including Cleversafe in IBM BlueMix – IBM’s development, DevOps and PaaS offering – as a catalog service, IBM will further ease adoption of Cleversafe by development organizations.

With IBM’s laser-focus on providing technology solutions and services to the world’s largest enterprises, CSPs and MSPs, a scale-out, software-driven solution focused on capacity makes this acquisition a perfect marriage.

Additionally, the Cleversafe software will be a win for Lenovo, which acquired IBM’s x86 server portfolio, as the Cleversafe solutions are built on commodity x86 platforms. Even so, Cleversafe CEO John Morris made clear that the Cleversafe software works cross-platform in the x86 server world, mirroring customer’s pattern of acquiring from various server vendors, over time.

Neuralytix believes that this acquisition fills in IBM’s overall data services and storage portfolio going into CY2016. We also note that IBM has demonstrated great abilities to integrate its acquisitions quickly and successfully. The combination of Cleversafe, with IBM’s own storage products – including IBM EasyTier, IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM), IBM Storwize and IBM XIV storage systems – along with IBM’s commitment to emerging technologies such as OpenStack — will make IBM a more competitive player in the storage/data services market in 2016.





Neuralytix analysts Jean S. Bozman and Tom Petrocelli and contributed to this Insight.

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