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.
It is interesting to watch the cycle of storage startups and compare that to ten years ago when we first starting hearing about EqualLogic, Compellent, Isilon, 3Par, BlueArc and LeftHand. There were dozens of others that didn't quite make the grade. After personally hearing hundreds of presentations from storage startups over the years convinced they were going to change the world and dominate the industry, I have become a bit more sober when I hear about the latest and greatest. To me the most important things are simple: how do you add undeniable value, is it quantifiable and how fast are you growing your customer base?
I love technology and am somewhat interested in your new fangled thing-a-ma-bob. But really I want to see how that technology translates into value and in my mind the only real evidence of your value is if lots of customers want to buy it. If you have something of value then it shouldn't be that hard to sell it.
This gets me to Nimble Storage. They have an iSCSI storage system that leverages SSD and compression. Yes, they have a bunch of the requisite features like snapshots, replication, etc. But the key is the SSD and the compression! Nimble uses SSD to create a large front-end cache pool thus increasing performance transparently before I/Os hit the RAID engine. And they use lossless compression ensuring data integrity and a predictable level of capacity optimization. Nimble can go against other iSCSI storage systems and provide 5x to 10x more performance and 2x to 4x capacity optimization. Storage always has and always will be about price/performance - which is at the heart of Nimble's value proposition. That's it. Simple. Smart. Easy to do the math.
And they provide an alternative to the channel from all of the big guys. The channel lost 3Par, Compellent, EqualLogic and LeftHand to HP and Dell. In comes Nimble to take their place.
The proof is in the field. They are gaining customer traction above and beyond the likes of NetApp and EqualLogic at the same time in their lifecycle. That is meaningful. And with their over the moon valuation they have a ton of capital to grow the business rapidly and enough equity appeal to attract the best people to come work for them.
There is plenty of speculation as to where the storage market is heading. Cloud storage. Automated tiers. Global name space. Scale-out. Intelligent grids. Intelligent clusters. Unified storage. All of these are interesting and important. But right here, right now companies need storage to run their applications. These companies want their storage to be easy to manage, reliable, cost effective and they want to make sure that performance is never an issue. And it will be that way for a long time. And that is why so many customers are buying Nimble Storage.
Coraid provides networked block-based storage but is different from SAN storage solutions because it actually eliminates the need for a SAN. Their thesis is that in the virtual data center the SAN is no longer required. Additionally, they believe that the legacy SAN protocols are past their prime and actually cause many of the problems inherent with storage networks. Another important dynamic that has changed the rules of the game is the relentless growth of data storage. Traditional storage systems were built for the terabyte (TB) world and not for petabytes (PB) of storage. Price, performance, scalability, manageability, reliability - are all impacted by sheer mass.
Today it is fairly common for even midsize companies to have 100s of TBs and larger enterprises to have PBs of storage and it continues to grow. Therefore PB data centers will be ubiquitous over the next decade and are quite common already. It is no longer "business as usual" and a new approach is required to address the challenges created just by sheer mass. If you have 1,000 tons to transport do you really want a truck that was designed to carry just a 1 ton payload?
The Coraid vision is to eliminate traditional or legacy SANs and replace it with a new way to network storage. It uses what they believe is a more efficient protocol that has greater cooperation between the host and storage; massive scalability in capacity, processing power and memory, near linear performance growth for both IOPS and throughput, is easier to support regardless of how much capacity is under management, and is extremely cost effective. Coraid's pricing message is that the cost of a PB of storage from them is less than what customer would pay for the software maintenance with EMC and NetApp storage.
This isn't a commercial for Coraid. I am not using their storage however I am working with a company that is and they really like the value proposition. They aren't thrilled with having to put a card in their servers (which is required for Windows but not for Linux environments). However, the value proposition is such that they are willing to overlook this issue. Coraid isn't feature-rich and their position is that they get these functions from either the virtualization layer, file system or the application layer. Over time this will become more true, if you will. Functions like snapshots and replication do exist on the upper layers and are becoming more sophisticated and widely available. Additionally, it is often the case that these features aren't necessary for the uses cases that customers are using Coraid for including Tier 3 storage.
Where the rubber meets the road for me is success with customers. I have been doing this a long time and every storage vendor that has ever met with me has given me a great story about their products. But it all comes down to whether customers are putting their money where their mouths are. It is especially hard for a startup to convince IT customers to buy something new from a small emerging vendor. However, Coraid is booming. And I am very impressed with Coraid's vision. It could be that customers just want cheaper and easy to manage storage but that isn't necessarily in conflict with their vision. It is an outcome of it. I like the idea of creating a sea change that is inevitable because the old rules no longer apply.
One of the most important changes in the storage world is that the last group of startups that "made it" had huge exits. 3PAR, Data Domain and Isilon all went public and then were acquired for over $2 billion each. Compellent and EqualLogic were in the billion range. And even BlueArc did well with about a $600 million buy out. Not too shabby. And there were a number of smaller storage acquisitions with very attractive valuations compared to their revenue traction.
So what does this mean? Well it is important for the end user because they now buy these innovative solutions from market leaders (in some cases this good and in some cases it sucks). It has also changed the value of the next crop of storage startups, many of whom are getting extremely attractive valuations from investors. Hey its only money and may be worth the risk if it leads to a billion dollar exit.
But are there still new categories and innovations to justify the next, next generation?
One of the biggest areas of VC investment and new startups is for SSD storage system startups. On the surface you might just shrug your shoulders and conclude that the traditional storage system guys can just add SSD disk drives and match the value proposition of the startups. That is why it is essential that the SSD storage system vendors do more than just provide SSD and a menu of features. Instead they need to leverage SSD in order to provide value that the other storage vendors cannot.
What might this include? High performance is of course essential but it must also include a compelling price/performance metric. For example the price per IOPS should be less than $1.00. Most traditional storage systems with disk drives are far greater than this - $3.00; $5.00 and higher.
Capacity optimization is extremely important as well. SSD solutions need to drive down capacity costs so it is closer to spinning media in price per GB. Technologies such as thin provisioning are important but are pretty common amongst HDD-based storage systems. Primary deduplication plays a major role here. There is some controversy with using primary dedupe and impacting performance and even data integrity, so naturally it will be essential that both of these issues are addressed. Now keep in mind any new storage technology typically had these same controversies (e.g. differential snapshots and thin provisioning) but eventually these features became mainstream.
I am a big fan of tiering for SSD. Now the pure SSD players have a disadvantage in this regard. But data doesn't require high performance for its full life-cycle. Therefore having some way to move the data to a lower storage tier is vital. Now interpret this anyway you want. Just figure out a lower tier whether its HDD, a third-party storage system, the cloud or a dedupe tier but you have to make the economics work. It all comes down to money.
Quality of Service (QoS) is another capability that makes sense and can be combined with tiering. If you can assign performance SLAs on a per application basis then you can leverage SSD far more effectively. It is about using the resource and not wasting it. Again, this concept is not new but has not truly been embraced by the market. QoS + SSD can create a very visible value proposition that traditional storage systems can't match.
Cloud Storage - A Wide Open Landscape
I love it when the hype cycle is at the stage that cloud storage is presently. It is simultaneously over-hyped and under-hyped. Just when real solutions are making traction, it is losing its sex appeal.
Cloud Storage is real and is making incredible progress. And there are lots of approaches today. There is pure cloud storage solutions. There are cloud storage solutions that focus on unstructured data; others on transactional block storage; application-specific services and solutions; services that focus on individual users; consumer oriented solutions; etc.
There are medium-sized companies that have hundreds of TBs today. That means that in a year or two they will have over a PB. And of course there are large enterprises that have 10, 20 or more PB today. So we are now in the PB storage era. This is a massive amount of capacity that has its own set of challenges just based on sheer size. Storing all of this data on a single logical storage system is easier said that done. How do you maintain any reasonable performance and address the challenges of data integrity that come with massive scale? How do you protect it all? Where does it live? How much space and power does it require? And how the heck will you ever migrate all of that data between systems? And let's not forget cost - which always is a factor - especially with IT budgets being flattened or reduced.
I was just at an event and the question was raised as to whether people were going to be using the cloud to store big data. I suggested that you first need to define big data. Big data means different things to different people just like "data" in of itself means different things depending on who you are talking to. To a movie studio data means video and audio. To a bank data means financial information. And on and on. Big Data is as varied as data. The importance of big data is not the adjective "Big" or the noun "Data" but the verb "Analysis". It is how we get the use out of that data that matters. Like most things in IT this is not really a revelation but a point of clarity that we are making. We have been analyzing certain data forever but now we need to turn to other forms of data (and there is lots and lots of it) in order to get better use out of it. Analyzing data can lead to a new product break through; improving services; streamlining finances; uncovering business risks; etc. Most importantly, it can make IT far more strategic than it is today. And that is a change that is long overdue.
So how does storage fit into all of this? There are vendors that have put together database and storage systems into a single solution in order to optimize performance to run analytics. There are storage systems that have been optimized for performance for database analytics (e.g. SSD storage systems). But Big Data analytics is still emerging and could stumble and fall. Because the value proposition has to be tangible and easily consumed. I know of very few big data analytic projects that have been landscape changing beyond improving query response times.
What needs to happen (and the process has sort of begun) is the convergence of worlds that are otherwise disparate. You need to bring the business analytic world together with the IT infrastructure world and make something that is best-in-class in both.
The constant and relentless trend has been that unstructured data far outstrips any other data type in capacity growth and this reality is perpetual. Yet most of the new storage startups are just focused on SAN-based solutions. Where are the next generation NAS guys? If you are out there I hope you are focused on more than just a new scale out file system or architecture. Because its not that important. If you want the recipe for success - BIG SUCCESS - I have it. Give me a call :)
Data Protection and Recovery
Not only does backup suck but so does replication. This space needs total reinvention but here is a catch - it isn't friggen easy. It is friggen hard. The challenge is not just technological but also with business execution. You must overcome incumbency. You must be able to deal with educating a legacy mindset with customers. You most ensure that you don't break anything as you attempt to fix everything. Additionally, there has been no uber-big wins in this arena. But whomever can solve this problem and can execute in the market can be the next billion-dollar baby.
Note - I purposely left out vendor names in this blog entry.