The storage landscape has gone through a number of transformative stages in the last two decades. EMC and NetApp emerged in the first stage, challenging the status quo and essentially creating the storage networking industry. They made storage that was less expensive and relatively easier to manage, and delivered intelligence to protect and manage data. The second stage saw innovators such as 3Par, Compellent, Data Domain, EqualLogic, and Isilon, all with unique architectures and technologies that, among this very diverse group, delivered far easier management, incredible scalability, capacity optimization, and intelligent tiering.
These two stages were good for customers (i.e., the end-users of these products and solutions). Innovation and competition drove down pricing and created a wide range of features for greater performance, ease of management, scalability, reliability, recoverability, infrastructure optimization, and more.
We are now at the threshold of a third transformative stage of the evolution of storage, one that is focusing very heavily on performance.
Performance Isn’t Everything!
While this next stage of storage is focused on providing transparent and cost effective performance, all of the other capabilities introduced in the previous transformative stages are also requisite. NAS and SAN support, data protection, replication, capacity optimization, highly virtualized storage, and a bevy of data management software features and capabilties combined with performance also define this next stage because each stage is progressive and all technological advances must be integrated if end-users are to achieve maximum value.
Performance For Everyone
You can debate the merits of performance, but the bottom line is that worrying about it should just be taken off the table. Once upon a time, storage was complex, unreliable, inefficient, hard to scale, and expensive—and all of those issues have been addressed. It is now time to remove performance as a challenge and add it to that list of storage issues that no one ever has to think about again.
There are studies that show that only between five and ten percent of all I/Os require high performance using some flash-based technology. But which five to ten percent? When do they need that higher performance? And if that small percentage of I/Os is vying for resources that other less performance-driven I/Os are consuming, will that impact the business? This is why performance should be a requisite just like ease of use, scalability, reliability, and other storage system features. This is why performance is so critical.
If you have an unlimited budget, than performance has always been in your grasp. But, in this next transformative stage of storage, it is essential that performance is commoditized, which can be defined as “the movement of a market from differentiated to undifferentiated price competition and from monopolistic to perfect competition." - Wikipedia
This is essentially what is happening in storage: performance is being addressed within different layers and offerings in the marketplace. And, over time, the preferred methods and solutions will become the mainstays in every data center. We are at the point in the process where the market is just beginning to shake out the winners and the losers. What will eventually emerge are performance solutions priced for consumption by nearly everyone, regardless of their IT budgets.
The reason there is so much attention focused on storage performance right now is that we are at the threshold of delivering the technology at a cost point that enables us to remove performance as an issue for everyone, in every environment, and for every application to ensure that no one ever has to think about performance again. This will impact profitability, user satisfaction, and operational efficiency.
Here is what is going on with Microsoft and Hyper-V:
- From a technology perspective Microsoft Hyper-V is finally a viable alternative to VMware ESX. It has analogous functionality as well has some competitive advantages. It is being used for mission-critical applications in a large number of customers and this will continue to grow.
- VMware finally has a serious challenger and they don't get much bigger and more powerful than Microsoft. This is good for the users - competition raises the the bar on every level including pricing, service and technology. Microsoft is a real market threat to VMware and have the resources, brand and muscle in the Enterprise to change hearts and minds at the C-level. Further, they have leverage that no other company has in terms of everything they offer.
- Interestingly, Microsoft is getting something right that VMware has failed to do and that is delivering a compelling virtualized storage stack. SMB 3.0 provides unique capability and VMware has nothing that even comes close.
- MS still has some significant challenges - most notably Systems Center. vCenter is very easy to use and there are hundreds of thousands of IT folks trained on it. Systems Center is a bit of a bear and rather complex.
Incumbency is hard to overcome in part because the customers have invested time and money becoming experts as well as optimizing and tuning their environments. Ignorance is another challenge - there is a large IT population out there Microsoft has to educate and if they aren't willing to listen...
VMware is a sales and marketing machine and they are focused on one thing - virtualization. Microsoft has a huge portfolio of applications and solutions and therefore far less focused.
VMware has stumbled a bit over the last few years falling short of coming out with the NEXT BIG THING in the virtual data center. However, software defined networking and the NSX is very compelling and will give something else for Microsoft to address going forward. NSX isn't a slam dunk…yet… and VMware has a long road ahead driving it into the market - but it is compelling and has the potential to change the landscape.
- I am associated with the Virtualization Technology Users Group (VTUG.com), which consists of over 5,000 virtualization professionals and we are seeing some real traction with Hyper-V. We are talking to customers considering a multi-hypervisor strategy and some are actually sweeping the floor replacing VMware with Hyper-V. The motivation for this has largely been pricing with huge savings. Of course pricing isn't everything but if all other things are equal (or close enough to equal) naturally cost will be a major factor. Another very important factor is the channel. System integrators, VARs and resellers all are selling VMware - making it difficult to compete. Bringing Hyper-V to their customers creates another conversation and opportunity for the channel. I am seeing some channel partners really embrace Hyper-V as a way to differentiate themselves.
So what happens in the virtualization wars going forward? A large segment of VMware's customer base will be very loyal to them. However, Microsoft will continue to gain in market share getting both greenfield opportunities, as part of a multi-hypervisor strategy and completely replacing VMware in some cases. Microsoft is shooting for full-blown domination of the market re: NT crushing Novell. I am skeptical that this will happen - certainly not any time soon. However, I do believe Microsoft could eventually have the most installations as VMware continues to generate the most revenue. VMware therefore needs to focus more on how to get more revenue from their loyal base. EMC has done a great job doing this with their storage customers and I am certain VMware will take a page from their book.
Additionally, there will be large pockets of KVM (e.g. Sears with 10,000 and eBay with over 40,000 KVM installations) within the data center and Amazon EC2 outside the data center.
Microsoft is on fire. I have rarely seen them so aggressive, focused and productive. In terms of virtualization - they are acting more like a startup (in some ways) than a massive software company. They are developing real intellectual property in record time. It is actually a bit inspiring to see such a large company driving so hard on all cylinders to be a market leader. And talk about a war worth fighting - the virtual data center and the cloud are the future of IT.
I have been working with the Virtualization Technology Users Group (VTUG) . VTUG is an independent virtualization users group with over 4,000 end user members that focuses on all platforms including ESX, Hyper-V, KVM and EC2. The 10th Annual VTUG Summer Slam event is taking place in Brunswick Maine and will have more than 1,000 IT professionals and over 50 vendors. Keynotes include technical evangelists from VMware and Microsoft. This is an excellent event and they end the day with a huge lobster bake that also includes ribs and chicken! And the live music is cool too.
VTUG is doing a pre-event boot camp the day before Summer Slam in Maine. The focus is on Hyper-V for the VMware expert. It is a hands-on lab and is about six hours long - so it will go in-depth. This is a first come, first serve opportunity. The boot camp is free so take advantage of it.
It is interesting how many storage vendors participate at Summer Slam. VTUG is running a program called "Bring Your Storage Peer". And if you do there are four chances to win some cool prizes. Learn more about the "Bring Your Storage Peer" program.
VTUG is branching out its events to other parts of the country with Silicon Valley Slam on August 1. It will take place at the DoubleTree in San Jose. VMware, Microsoft and Amazon will be speaking at this event.
VTUG is now conducting webcast events as well. The first upcoming webcast is Hyper-V for the VMware Expert. Let's face it, Hyper-V is becoming a contender in the virtualization arena. The more you know about it the better it is for you.
All of these events are free to IT end users.
I'll be at all them - I hope to see you there.
I take my hat off to Gartner for creating their Magic Quadrants! A marketing and industry coup! Companies and organizations actually pay attention to it - both end users and vendors. Gartner's competitors have tried to create alternatives but to no avail. However, as Spider-Man's uncle Ben once said - "With great power comes great responsibility" - and this superduper analyst firm's analysis lacks rigor, intellect and insight worthy of its role in the industry.
The new Garter Storage MQ is based on the following proposition:
"Improvements in scalability, availability, performance and functionality of midrange storage systems have blurred the boundaries between network-attached, midrange and high-end storage systems."
I am not sure what this really means. Does it mean now that companies using the EMC VMAX or HDS VSP should take a look at Dell EqualLogic or NetApp FAS as viable 1-for-1 alternatives? And should these same customers consider using NFS or CIFS in place of FC or iSCSI since, as the above statement implies, NAS and SAN scalability, performance and functionality are pretty much the same? That is a big statement to make - NAS and SAN are interchangeable and fundamentally synonymous with one another. Perhaps that is not what Gartner is saying but it isn't very clear. And what about the reverse use case - should IT professionals seriously consider high-end storage systems to replace mid-range NAS or SAN storage solutions? Does the IBM DS8000 now compete with HP LeftHand or Nexsan NST?
Gartner also states that no extra credit is given to vendors that serve all market segments. Okay so market segments don't matter? So why are they talking about market segments in their analysis:
Dell Caution: "Lack of presence in the traditional high-end storage market and its relative lack of success in the fast-growing NAS and object storage market segments are limiting its appeal as a storage vendor."
So it would seem that you get no extra credit for serving all market segments but get penalized if you don't ("lack of presence in traditional high-end storage") or if you aren't particularly successful at it ("relative lack of success in the fast-growing NAS and object storage market segments").
Unless you are NetApp - "NetApp is focused on improving FAS and V Series' competitiveness in large mission-critical environments. Early signs are promising, but this is still a work in progress that requires ongoing improvements in marketing, sales, product features and professional services."
It seems that NetApp, in the second highest position on the MQ doesn't really need a high-end storage system but a solution that is on its way there in order to earn its top spot. It doesn't appear to matter that NetApp has been trying to compete in the high-end storage space for nearly a decade and has failed to do so - and yet it looks like they get points for saying they are almost able to. I am not trying to put down NetApp - they are a great company - but the Gartner analysis is contradictory.
It is also very curious that HP was the visionary leader in storage in 2011 and is fifth place in 2012. How do you rationalize such an extreme gap within 12 months? We may never know since Gartner doesn't feel the need to explain itself.
And the whole "niche player" thing is just incorrectly named. The vendors in this box aren't focused on a niche but the broad storage market. This has always been an issue with the MQ but we all just tralala along and ignore the fact that these vendors aren't niche players!
I could go on and on about the puzzling analysis that Gartner has put forth. But there is a single point in all of this: the Gartner Storage MQ premise is fundamentally flawed, subjective and inconsistent. It attempts to paint with a very broad brush things that require detailed analysis. Subjective analysis can be valid and useful but its arguments and rationale need to be able to stand up to rigorous scrutiny. This does not.
What is needed is an analysis based on the real world focusing on both traditional and emerging storage solutions that is segmented and with more detailed information. It is hard to imagine anyone - especially end user customers - getting any real value out of the Gartner Storage MQ.
I want to take a moment to discuss a consumer, prosumer and small business storage solution that I am a huge fan of (so much so that I personally invested in the company):
Connected Data and its product the File Transporter - www.FileTransporter.com
File Transporter is a "social" storage system that is accessible anywhere in the world. Here is my breakdown of who should be interested in the File Transporter:
1. Anyone that needs additional storage for their laptops, PCs and/or IPADs. I use it for two of my Macs, one Windows-based PC and my IPAD. I love that I don't have to connect via USB and that I can share it with all of my computers and devices.
2. You need to access your data anywhere in the world. You download the client software and can access your data anywhere. I travel a great deal and want to make sure I can get access to my data anywhere.
3. If you want to share data with your family, friends, business associates, etc. Yes I used DropBox today and I pretty much hate it. It is cumbersome and slow and many of my clients have corporate polices against using DropBox. And yes it does bother me that DropBox doesn't encrypt the data - so anyone at DropBox can see the data if they wanted to. The File Transporter allows you to share your data securely and the user interface is very easy.
4. You want to backup and archive data. It is the perfect system to store backup copies and dormant data off of your active computers and devices. In the future I am going to buy my Macs with less internal storage and move all of the files I don't use (which is the majority of them) to my File Transporters.
5. It is great for individuals that just want additonal storage versus getting one of these legacy USB external drives. And the additional benefits of having it be used for all your devices is a big advantage. Add to that accessing your data anywhere. And being able to share your files just puts it over the top.
6. It is also a perfect solution for small business such as law firms, accountants, doctors, consultants (like me), etc. You can use it for all of the above capabilties. The backup use case also makes a ton of sense. You can back up your systems to the File Transporter and keep copies of your data offsite. There are still small companies that take tapes home with them! And the more "modern" companies use ongoing cloud services they pay for monthly, which adds up pretty quickly. You can remove all that expense and risk and use the File Transporter for offsite backup as well as for a number of other use cases - making the cost justification even more compelling.
The File Transporter is a big deal because it is very easy to use, intelligent, shareable, accessible anywhere and very cost effective. I believe for individuals and small businesses - it is going to change how we think about storage.