I just read Steve Duplessie’s take on the HDS acquisition of Bluearc. If I had a dollar for every time I read about HDS buying a NAS appliance, I’d still be poor. They tried it a few times with some small OEMs over the years and in most cases the problem was part technology and part a sales issue.

Let’s face it… HDS is used to selling humongosaur-like systems to the very large enterprises who can afford to buy big iron. Much of HDS’ traditional hardware (manufactured by parent Hitachi) is designed around block-based storage (yes, agree with Steve on this).

Unfortunately for HDS, and lucky for NAS-behemoth NetApp, there are still customers out there, even the big ones, who need file storage  because companies still store a lot of information in the form of files – probably a lot more than you feel comfortable with. I have a 1.5TB redundant NAS appliance at home serving the four members of my family. Yes, applications like ERP, CRM and SCM have limited use for NAS systems and will run a lot faster if the database is running off a powerful SAN engine. But for 100% of employees in any company, they will need to store their files in the network somewhere – and a NAS is a perfect place for that.

So back to HDS… why does HDS need a NAS solution? Likely because customers are hinting they need it. But more importantly lacking a NAS  solution gives competitors like NetApp a window to get in and slowly eat through the HDS armor that surrounds Mr Enterprise customer.

Will this ever work for HDS? I think the bigger challenge for HDS is understanding the technology and being able to sell it convincingly.  From history, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where all those countless NAS technologies that HDS tried to sell got buried. The good news is HDS has had a few years of history selling BlueArc. Now its just a matter of getting the sales people (in Asia) to get moving.

On August 16, Dell announced its intention to acquire 3PAR Data, better recognized as one of the early pioneers of virtualized storage. A week HP made a counter offer that ups the bidding war for one of the few remaining storage pureplay startups in the once crowded enterprise storage marketplace.

Why is Dell interested in 3PAR? Dell’s storage business has largely depended on its OEM agreement with EMC (in force until 2013). But its storage buys of the last decade (ConvergeNet Technologies, EquaLogic, Exanet, Ocarina Networks) coupled with its Perot Systems acquisition suggests that Dell has higher ambitions than being a successful reseller of storage boxes that plug and play to its servers. The EquaLogic buy gave it iSCSI SANs (despite Dell having rights to sell EMC Celerra NX4).

For its part, HP has as much interest to keep Dell from acquiring 3PAR. Adding 3PAR to its portfolio puts Dell in the thick of the data center. A serious mid to high-end storage virtualization offering means more opportunities to sell high-end services, and possibly making a serious dent on HP’s ProLiant server and EVA/low-end XP storage business. A 3PAR solution overlaps with some of the XP and EVA so there might be a consolidation. I would not be surprised if HDS will come out the loser since it gives HP one more reason to stop the OEM relationship with the Japanese manufacturer (Rumors of HP trying to buy the system storage business of Hitachi have been playing around for well close to a decade now. So far the Japanese vendor has resisted the offer).

HP with 3PAR also puts the Palo Alto stalwart into serious contention in the cloud storage business, something EMC has been building over the last few years.The latest entrant to the cloud bandwagon is HDS.

The storage industry remains vibrant if not shrinking. The last few brands worth buying, remaining untethered to any system vendor, Brocade and Qlogic. Acquiring Brocade would give HP the ump it needs to up the ante in the storage networking space, seriously putting a rock in front of the Cisco jauggernaut. HP would also do well to buy Qlogic making further inroads into the total server-storage-networking storyline.

If Dell loses 3PAR to HP, the only other target on sight would be Compellent. Not exactly near the possibilities that 3PAR offers to the company. The next battleground is in the software space with backup and recovery solutions a consistent enterprise requirement and for which the choices are aplenty despite Symantec’s dominance. The Veritas acquisition has made Symantec vulnerable to enterprise-grade, low-cost solutions from the likes of Acronis, Commvault and BakBone.

For the moment, the storage market is not the most boring place in the tech industry.

The April 14 announcement of the new EMC V-Max storage array raises what I have long-held is the reckless abuse of technology terms to win over customer (and media) attention. In the press release, I note that ‘virtual’ appeared 36 times. I am trying to remember what my English teacher in elementary grade told me about the repetitive use of words. I guess not enough marketers are being shot for single-minded ignorance of English grammar rules. Anyway back to the story at hand.

Practically every major storage, server and system vendor announcement in the last 18 months have “virtualization” as a central message. Everyone is riding on the bandwagon of “do more with less”. The technical promise is optimization or better utilization. The financial promise is less money.

The problem is too much marketing hype is creating confusion.

The technical definition of virtualization is the abstraction of compute resources. Wikipedia lists six different types of virtualization depending on what the “resource” is. The layman’s definition of virtualization doesn’t really exists. It depends on what the base technology is. If you are saying, it’s about the operating system, then virtualization means running many operating systems (for example Windows) on a single physical hardware. If you think applications, it is running many different applications on the same OS. If it’s data storage, it is having access to data no matter where it is physically stored.

Confused? I know I am!

Anyway, EMC – arguably the dominant data storage vendor today (for now) – launched their latest storage array on April 14 (US time) with virtualization almost literally as the adjacent label to the product. The new Symmetrix V-Max is a humongous array that promises pooling, migration, management, functinality and asset re-use all from one single product. (more…)

My colleague asked me to attend a roundtable briefing at SUN Microsystems’ Hong Kong office on 3 December. Having worked at a storage vendor myself years ago, in a marketing role no less, I am learned in the ways of whitewashing stories to the point where they sit between science fiction and magic. And identifying which is what is just as challenging.

SUN’s Open Storage strategy promises to significantly drive down the cost of current generations of proprietary storage solutions from vendors like HP, IBM, EMC, Fujitsu, Dell, HDS and SUN (yes, SUN also has proprietary offerings) by (1) using commodity components where possible; and (2) giving away much of the base software that is the intelligence behind expensive but proprietary storage systems, Sun hopes to enterprises to consider the potential benefits that lower acquisition cost brings with open source storage.

Storage back to basics

Most enterprise and mid-market storage systems use proprietary software – embedded on the hardware and add-on software to adhere to a particular service level. While certain hardware components are roughly the same – hard disks, fans, frame or chassis – the software is what gives each storage system its unique personalities. It is this ‘personality’ which gives you the five 9s or auto-failover or ability to call home when the device thinks its sick and other fancy termed features. (more…)

Three months ago I had an opportunity to meet an ex-SUN storage evangelist – Robert Nieboer – who spoke elonquently about the concept of Open Storage. According to Nieboer, Open Storage suggests that you buy standard, commodity products like controllers and hard disks, and install an “Open Source” operating system that includes storage resource management, and you get a storage subsystem that will perform pretty much everything that a similarly configured storage solution from IBM, EMC, HP, HDS, NetApp or Fujitsu, but at a fraction of the cost – 10% to be precise.

Certainly at 10% of the costs of a convention storage solution from mainstream storage vendors, you’d wonder why there is no mad rush to get into the open storage bandwagon.

I took the opportunity to broach the concept of open storage to three CIOs. The response were unanimous – “no, thank you!”. Why?

Michael Leung, CIO for China Construction Bank (Hong Kong branch), notes that banks are probably some of the most conservative businesses on the planet. Highly regulated, all activities are monitored and audited. Every piece of technology the bank is using has likely got the auditor’s seal of approval. Any changes to the type of infrastructure would warrant long meetings, supported with lengthy documentation, with auditors. Its ok to pay through the nose as long as CCB complies with set standards and regulations.

Like Leung, Raymond Ngai, Head of IT Infrastructure for the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC), meeting government regulatory requirements is just as important as keeping data secure 24x7x365. The Jockey Club sites on 35TB of data housed across the main data center and the disaster recovery (DR) site. Like CCB, the Jockey Club likes to stay with old and reliable (I prefer to call it predictable).

One head of IT who bucked the perception was Thomas Lee, Computer Operations Manager at HACTL (Hongkong Air Cargo Terminal Ltd). Lee says HACTL is constantly on the lookout for IT solutions that would deliver significant ROI. Certainly if you can save 90% of your storage budget, that warrants a label of significant ROI. But you have to pay attention to the fact that HACTL’s business isn’t as highly regulated at CCB or HKJC.

Apart from SUN, none of the other major storage vendors in Asia (EMC, IBM, HP, NetApp and Dell) have an open storage story to tell. Why should they? Such a story could potentially cannibalize their “open but proprietary” storage offerings. SUN is not invulnerable either. IDC ranks SUN as 5th in terms of storage sales, with double-digit growth – like everyone else. Much of this growth is attributable to SUN’s storage business derived from OEM partnerships with Hitachi, LSI and Dothill.

Certainly SUN’s proposition that storage should not cost as much as it does today has it merits. The question that CIOs and business managers need to ask is ‘whether the technology is mature enough today to warrant taking the plunge.’

The likely answer is ‘no.’

It will probably take a few more years before open storage becomes a viable solution for mission critical applications. Like Linux and the open systems platform, early adoptors can take the opportunity to test the solution either on development platforms or applications that live on Tier 3 storage platforms.

Today the verdict is out – open storage is not ready for prime time. But like the probervial Gartner Hype Cycle, the technology will reach a point where it becomes mature enough to consider. Until then, stick with the tried and tested, albeit expensive and proprietary solutions available from everyone else.

For more on Open Storage, check out the following sites:
SUN Open Storage
OpenStore
DotHill Open Storage
SGI Open Storage