Once again, EMC took another shot across the bow when Network Appliance and IBM announced that they've entered into a strategic storage relationship. And there's nothing subtle about IBM's plans for the products and technologies that it will OEM from Network Appliance; the subheading of the joint press release specifically states that the combined effort of the two companies "...offers a lifeline to clients locked in by EMC."

On the IBM side, the agreement lets IBM sell IBM-branded versions of Network Appliance's NAS and Internet SCSI (iSCSI)/IP SAN products and solutions. Network Appliance gains integration with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, which will be positioned as the preferred backup and recovery solution for Network Appliance users.

Both IBM and Network Appliance are making the point that their open-standards products are preferable to the proprietary solutions that EMC offers and that current EMC customers can make the transition to the IBM-Network Appliance product line with little trouble. IBM has been pushing for EMC clients for quite a while. In fact, last December IBM shipped the fifth generation of its TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller, which included full support for the entire line of EMC's Symmetrix and CLARiiON storage products.

So other than a concerted attack on EMC for its customer base, what do Network Appliance and IBM get out of their relationship? It would appear that IBM gets a significant boost in its entry and midlevel storage product line (although I'll be interested to see how IBM eventually positions the broad selection of products and technologies available from Network Appliance through this deal). IBM will certainly have an offering of end-to-end storage products and solutions that will dwarf most of its smaller competitors and will be rivaled only by the largest players in the storage market.

For Network Appliance, the clearest advantage is the access it gains to IBM's customer base and the significant market reach that IBM brings to the table, both in terms of IBM's worldwide presence and its well-respected service and support organization. IBM's leadership position in technologies such as utility computing, which has its own specific storage needs, also gains Network Appliance entry into markets that are generally homogeneous in their equipment selections.

As competitors gear up to take on EMC on its own turf, EMC is looking to expand the playing field with a marketing push into the small-to-midsized business (SMB) market space. EMC isn't doing this as a direct sales effort; rather, it's pushing smaller customers to members of the EMC Velocity Partner program: VARs, vertical resellers, consultants, and systems integrators. Whether the EMC name is an advantage in the SMB space has yet to be proven.

Also in the news, Network Appliance announced that it acquired Alacritus, a company that makes the Virtual Tape Library (VTL) software that Network Appliance uses. VTL is a tape emulator that lets hard-disk systems appear to backup software applications as tape drives, giving large-scale enterprises a high-performance alternative to traditional tape backup without requiring them to develop new practices and procedures for using disk instead of tape backup hardware.

On an unrelated note, the ballot for Windows IT Pro's annual Readers' Choice awards is now live. Here's your chance to reward companies that provide excellent products and the best overall services. The September 2005 issue of Windows IT Pro will feature the winners. Click here to vote.