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.

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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…)