If EMC set out to improve its Clariion AX150, then it succeeded with the AX4 it launched today. But if it wants to offer a system optimized for SMBs, then it still has some work to do.
The AX4 follows the blueprint that storage companies used when they first started going after SMBs a few years back. They took their larger SAN systems and scaled them down in size and features. That didn’t work, and none of the large SAN vendors has made much of a dent on the vast SMB market. EMC and its partner Dell are now in their third generation of AX systems without much to show.
Meanwhile, EMC’s competitors Hewlett-Packard, Network Appliance, Hitachi Data Systems, and even Dell with its PowerVault MD3000 have delivered storage systems designed from the ground up for SMBs. And they cost less than the $8,000-plus price tag EMC puts on the AX4.
EMC counters that it delivers more capacity and technology for the money with the AX4. But SMBs want simplicity; do they really care about a Fibre Channel option or SAS/SATA intermix? Those features are aimed at EMC customers who want a storage system for a department or remote office that is compatible to their larger Clariions, not SMBs looking to network their storage for the first time.
Dell is more realistic with its positioning of the new system, which it calls the AX4-5. Dell product manager Eric Cannell says the PowerVault MD3000 is for small businesses and the AX4-5 for largers SMBs and “can scale up to the bottom of what you would consider a midrange array.” Dell also prices the system at $13,858 and up, clearly not a true SMB price point.
But the new system puts Dell in a sticky situation with its EqualLogic acquisition. Cannell declined to talk about where all Dell’s iSCSI products fit until the EqualLogic deal closes, but customers are likely confused. If the AX4-5 is so good, why did Dell spent $1.4 billion on EqualLogic?
In the long run, Dell has more at stake than EMC. When you sell the most systems with six-figure and even seven-figure price tags as EMC does, it doesn’t hurt much to lose out on $8,000 deals. But SMBs are Dell’s main line of business, and it’s crucial for Dell to get it right.
The industry’s been abuzz this week with rumors that ESG analyst Tony Asaro is headed to Dell, and today Asaro confirmed that’s the plan. He’s going to join Dell as a director of product marketing; today is his last official day as an analyst.
Asaro said his new role will be in creating Dell’s storage strategy and evangelizing their storage products (some would say this is the role of analysts in the market today, anyway). When asked why he’s leaving his analyst gig, Asaro said he’s excited by the position iSCSI is taking in the market and Dell’s direction following the $1.4 billion acquisition of EqualLogic in November. In other words, a boilerplate answer.
In fairness, Asaro has focused on iSCSI during his time as an analyst and has been bullish about that market’s future. Maybe he didn’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore, watching money roll in elsewhere. In that way, it’s refreshing to see an analyst put his career where his predictions are.
However, he’ll need to be careful to avoid the fate of another former analyst, Randy Kerns, who left the Evaluator Group to become a vice president of strategy and planning at Sun in September 2005, shortly after Sun completed a blockbuster acquisition of its own. Less than a year later, he left Sun, resurfacing in October 2006 as CTO of ProStor Systems.
Still, this news, along with Dell’s acquisition of The Networked Storage Co. in December, will be welcome to EqualLogic users concerned with customer support in the wake of the acquisition. Folding in added storage expertise shows Dell’s at least trying to make the right moves.
Storage vendors are always looking for the next big thing, and they bang the drums loudly when they think they’ve found it — often long before customers are ready to buy. Now they are making a lot of noise around clustered systems, particularly when it comes to selling to new types of businesses such as Web-based merchants and service providers.
Sun, EMC and IBM, which have mostly slideware at this point, have all disclolsed intentions to tackle this space over the past month or so. IBM backed up the talk by acquiring grid storage system vendor XIV this week in a deal reportedly worth $300 to $350 million.
But it’s still early in the cluster game, as Isilon painfully found out. Isilon went public on the strength of its success in the clustered NAS market, but that market apparently isn’t as big as Isilon’s execs and investors expected. Its first year as a public company was marked by disappointing revenues and a plummeting stock price.
NetApp, meanwhile, is finding it hard to cluster its traditional non-clustered NAS. More than four years after it acquired cluster technology from Spinnaker, NetApp hasn’t had great success with its OnTap GX product. Users report that many features they’ve come to expect from NetApp aren’t working yet with GX. NetApp considers its clustered product mainly for the small high performance computing (HPC) market at this stage. Others, such as startup Panasas, also sell clusters mainly to HPC customers .
So it will be interesting to see how much success IBM has with XIV’s Nextra systems, and what EMC and Sun come up with.
There is one Web 2.0 company that has successfully deployed a highly parallel compute farm in massive scale production, but it developed the technology in-house. That is Google, which built Googleplex with nary a single storage vendor’s salemsan present. But Google’s system isn’t for sale — much to the relief of storage vendors but not their would-be customers.
As 2007 draws to a close, there are three technologies that appear near the top of many storage managers’ priority lists going into 2008.
· Tape encryption
The mix of old and new technologies is intriguing. One would think that as deduplication and VMware rise in importance, more companies would start to abandon storing data on tape. Yet that does not appear to be the case. Symantec’s Director of Product Marketing, Marty Ward, recently told me that the new encryption features in NetBackup 6.5 are its #2 most sought-after feature (deduplication is #1).
Don’t rush into a deduplication purchase decision. I have yet to talk to a user who doesn’t report faster backup times using a deduplicating backup appliance or backup software and ensuing reductions in data stores. However, I sense that users are rushing into purchasing decisions and not stepping back to look at what other options they have available.
ExaGrid System’s CEO, Bill Andrews, told me this past week that in 50% of its customer deals, the company is seeing no competition. I suspect this percentage probably holds true for Data Domain and Quantum as well. But storage managers should avoid rushing out and buying a deduplicating product to solve their backup problems. Taking just a few extra days to check out what other products are available, how each product adds more capacity and performance, and how viable the company behind the product is can save you some management headaches.
The big cautionary note with tape encryption is to verify how encryption keys are created and managed. So, I recommend using a third-party appliance to create and manage the encryption keys. Though appliances can encrypt the data, more are starting to work in conjunction with backup software and tape drives to provide encryption keys. When companies encrypt data stored to tape, most are hoping they never to access the data again. So managers need to think in terms of how best to manage the recovery of data in five years, not five days. Encryption appliances create highly secure encryption keys, manage the keys long-term, and give companies assurance that they can manage the encryption keys and then recover the data years later.
Storage companies also need to account for the very real storage problems that server virtualization creates. One of the best things you can do in 2008 to prevent VMware from negatively impacting your environment is to change the way you back up VMware virtual machines (VMs). One approach is to use the latest versions of backup software that support the VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) framework, which back up just the VMDK file which contains the data for all VMs on a VMware server. The other is to install a host-based CDP or dedupe agent on each VM. This eliminates the overhead that backup software agents introduce on each VM. I recommend using CDP. If you are going to change your backup approach anyway, choose the one that gives you the most granular recovery options.
According to a report from an Israeli news source, Globes, IBM is set to pay between $300 and $350 million for an Israeli startup, XIV, which is still in stealth mode and reportedly specializes in grid storage. According to the Globes report:
Since inception only $3 million dollars have been invested in the company, which came from chairman Moshe Yanai, formerly of storage solutions giant EMC, and private investors.
EMC, meanwhile, has its own plans to release a grid storage system next year, according to announcements made at its Innovation Day in Boston in November.
You can count GlassHouse Technologies among the companies expecting storage spending to increase – or at least hold steady – in 2008. The storage consultant firm filed for an IPO this week, which means it plans to go pubic early next year during a time when many large storage and IT vendors are cautious because of a perceived spending slowdown.
GlassHouse said it hopes to raise $100 million, and will likely be the first or second storage company to go public in 2008 (NAS vendor BlueArc filed to for an IPO in September, but has yet to price its shares to complete the IPO).
And GlassHouse needs spending to increase in order to make it as a public company. As it points out in its SEC filing, it lost $9.6 million last year, $69.9 million since its inception in 2001, and expects the losses to continue. So why go public now? Partly because it can use the $100 million on acquisitions and to keep its business growing, but also because it is well respected in storage circles and has steadily increased revenue. GlassHouse sees a rosy long term future for IT and storage consultants, revolving around data protection, virtualization and green data centers. According to its S-1 filing:
- Storage/Data Protection: These services help customers plan, integrate and manage their physical data storage and data protection technologies. According to Gartner, this market is predicted to grow from $24 billion in 2006 to $34 billion by 2011.
- Virtualization: These services help customers plan, integrate and manage their virtualized environments. IDC forecasts that the consulting and systems integration segments of this market will grow from $1.2 billion in 2006 to $5.2 billion in 2011 at an average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33%
- “Green” Data Centers: These services help customers plan, migrate and manage their data centers to reduce power needs, thereby decreasing the cost to operate their data centers. We believe this market will grow rapidly, as companies seek to reduce their energy costs. According to Gartner, “more than 70% of the world’s Global 1000 organizations will have to modify their data center facilities significantly during the next five years.”
Others are bullish on the need for storage consultants, too. Dell today said it is acquiring U.K.-based The Networked Storage Co., an IT consultant that – as you can guess from the name – specializes in networked storage.
Also today, venture capital buyout firm Garnett & Helfrich Capital, purchased MTI Europe from the bankrupt MTI Technology Corp. The private equity firm will rebrand MTI Europe as MTI, and an MTI spokesperson said the company will offer its consultant services in the United States.
Even my friends who don’t normally follow the storage business are atwitter over an Engadget report that Buffalo has unleashed a 100 GB behemoth flash drive upon the world. Geeks everywhere are probably salivating to take the thing apart (yes, I’m looking at you, Tory) … unfortunately, they’ll have to wait. The catch is that Buffalo is only releasing the product for now in its home country of Japan.
According to company reps, the $1,000 asking price for the credit-card sized USB accessory makes it less than cost-effective to import right now. (If you just can’t get enough flash memory, there are 64 GB monsters roaming North America.)
The Engadget comments section also contains an interesting discussion of the merits of such a large flash drive. In the Engadget screenshot, the card looks like a behemoth, but the post says it’s about the size of a credit card. Still, it launched a spirited discussion that I think asks some pertinent questions, namely, “would it not be more practical to just buy a $300 travel drive?”
At this juncture, and at this price point, certainly. But Moore’s law waits for no man, and the price of a 100 GB card will come down. Hence the other questions that this announcement begs: at what capacity and price point does a mechanical drive become more practical than a solid state drive? How will that equation change over time? It’s something we in the storage market are going to have to examine more closely in the coming year.
Fibre Channel vendors aren’t the only ones pushing the new Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) standard designed to help Fibre Channel devices take advantage of 10-gig Ethernet. Intel is also getting into the game, with an FCoE Linux initiator.
Intel this week released an open source FCoE initiator that it will maintain on http://www.open-fcoe.org/. The FCoE initiator will work the way iSCSI initiators wok on current IP SANs. By going open source instead of developing the initiators for its own products, Intel hopes to accelerate the availability of FCoE by getting feedback from the Linux community. Intel storage planner and technologist Jordan Plawner said the goal is for Linux servers to ship FCoE-ready, just as they ship with iSCSI inititators today.
“We believe 10-gig Ethernet provides an opportunity to converge SAN and LAN traffic,” Plawner said. “We’ll continue to support iSCSI, but FCoE makes it easier to connect Ethernet into Fibre Channel SANs.”
That’s the party line for Fibre Channel vendors, and one that iSCSI SAN proponents dispute. Like iSCSI vendors, Intel is looking at it from the Ethernet side – but Plawner said FCoE will be better suited than iSCSI to take advantage of the coming Enhanced Ethernet spec. Enhanced Ethernet is a new version in the works that boosts Ethernet’s performance to make it more suitable to run storage.
“It’s much easier to adopt FCoE for Enhanced Ethernet,” Plawner said. “iSCSI is Ethernet end to end, so you would need a completely new subnet because you need Enhanced Ethernet on every node. With FCoE, just the first server and first top-of-the-rack-switch needs Enhanced Ethernet.”
Intel is looking to put FCoE Linux initiators on adapter cards that will work with FCoE switches in 2008. Plawner says he expects FCoE-enabled switches from Brocade and Cisco in the second half of next year, and he thinks companies will deploy FCoE in their networks by the end of 2008.
Plawner’s time frame is even more optimistic than that of some Fibre Channel storage vendors backing FCoE. Brocade execs says they don’t expect adoption until 2009, and they don’t think widescale adoption will arrive before 2010. But Brocade pledges to support FCoE in the DCX backbone director it will launch next year. Cisco’s FCoE switches are expected from Nuova Systems, which is 80 percent owned by Cisco. Nuova has yet to give product details, but industry sources say it will likely have FCoE switches or cards that plug into Cisco MDS switches early next year.
Here is a more detailed explanation of how Fibre Channel and Ethernet can converge.
Up until now you (corporate IT) have not had to worry about video surveillance. That job was up to the security guys, those guys that wore uniforms and pretty much kept to themselves. But be prepared. If you are not already deeply involved in video surveillance equipment RFP creation, acquisition, installation and management, you will be very soon.
The world of video surveillance is changing so rapidly that the user and the traditional supplier are both in a state of frenzy. It is within this transformation that the role of IT is becoming increasingly critical. The reasons for the increase in video surveillance are pretty easy to understand. Post 9/11, enterprises as well as governments are all adding or increasing video surveillance to the security equation. Of course, casinos and banks have always been the leading users of video surveillance, but now everyone is in the game. On a typical day, a person living in a city may be videotaped five or more places, as he drives to work (and passes through specific traffic lights), parks his car in the company parking lot, enters the building, makes a trip to the bank at lunch, grabs a couple of items at the local K-mart and heads home. There are all kinds of privacy issues that can be debated, but I am staying away from that. At least for now. Right now, I am more interested in the technology and IT’s increasing role in video surveillance.
Traditional video surveillance equipment was not designed to deal with this onslaught and is gasping for air. It is being replaced almost completely with IP-based equipment. That’s where you come in. Until now, most video surveillance equipment was based on CCTV (closed circuit TV), which basically meant the cameras, which recorded analog video, were hooked up via coaxial cable to the central point, where the video was taped on VCRs. Later, DVRs converted the analog signal to digital at the central location before storing it. But, these technologies cannot deal with the onslaught of data from more and more cameras and the fact that cameras are increasingly adding higher resolutions.
The latest crop of cameras records video in a digital format, and compresses it using MJPEG or MPEG before transmitting it over standard IP network to a central location that stores the data on scalable disk arrays. Once in the realm of IP, all the goodies we are used to in IT become available to an industry that still thinks of guards manning physical structures. Centralized management become feasible, data can be accessed asymmetrically, from multiple locations, replicated when appropriate. Another level of sophistication is being added at the end points. Now cameras can be activated when they detect motion or switch into a higher resolution if certain criteria are met. Video analytics allow software to recognize facial characteristics. Searches can be conducted for specific objects or people. You get the idea. It is like James Bond gadgetry becoming available to regular folks. But, that is reflective of the world we live in.
I think you (IT) need to be prepared to play a major role in this transformation that is occurring. You are the resident experts in storage and, at this point, pretty well up on IP technologies as well. Video surveillance simply becomes another application you have to support. So, if you are not already deeply involved in the selection and day to day management of the video surveillance equipment, it is only a matter of time. Security people who used to make decisions on such purchases without any consultation, will now insist on your involvement. You should gladly offer to help.
Another important thing to realize is that the type of storage you end up selecting for these applications will very likely be different than storage for other applications. For video surveillance the attributes that matter for storage include cost effectiveness (dirt cheap), highly scalable across both capacity and performance (cannot afford to create islands of storage), low entry price point, cost effective availability (mirroring may be too expensive), protection from disk drive or nodal failure and, most importantly, it needs to IP-based. Everything else in this environment is IP based, so making storage IP-based makes it easier to understand and manage. FC storage would bring in a level of complexity that is unnecessary here. Also, legacy architectures that have grafted an IP (iSCSI) interface would not cut it here, because they would not meet the other requirements above. Storage players that I believe merit consideration include Pivot3, Intransa, LeftHand Networks and to a lesser degree, EqualLogic (their price point may be too high for this application). There are other inexpensive storage offerings, such as from Nexsan or Xyratex but if an architecture does not allow clustering and presentation of a single system image, as it scales, it misses a criterion that I consider absolutely necessary for this application. However, you may want them in the initial mix as you start the evaluation process. I am sure you have enough on your plate without adding yet another storage-hungry application. But the way the winds are blowing, you either pro-actively plan on this or you will get pulled in pushing and screaming.
Update 12-19-07: Data Mobility Group’s Robin Harris has a very interesting take of his own on this phenomenon over on his blog, StorageMojo.
Did you know Sun now has a Chief Gaming Officer? That EMC demonstrated its latest NAS product’s interface with the XBox 360 at its most recent EMC Innovation Day? That Cisco’s next big business plan involves not just the virtual data center but the digital home? That Seagate has its sights for expansion set on … automobiles?
SMBs have been a focus for still more storage companies, which have been busily overhauling low-end product lines. But they haven’t been all that successful. So why are all the big boys suddenly focused not only on small businesses, but on homes as well?