Storage Soup

April 25, 2008  12:39 PM

Primary storage still means one vendor

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

The term “vendor lock-in” is rarely used in a good way by storage buyers. It usually means you’re stuck with products from one vendor, making it difficult to switch if you’re unhappy or something better comes along.

Still, with probably more options for storage products than ever before, most companies still buy all their primary storage from one vendor. That’s according to a Forrester report, “Consolidate Storage Vendors to Reduce Complexity,” released this week.

A Forrester survey of 170 companies ranging from SMBs to large enterprises in North America and Europe found that more than 80 percent bought their primary storage from one vendor over the last year. That includes 64 percent of the companies with more than 500 TB of raw storage.

The report, written by analyst Andrew Reichman, says using more than one primary storage vendor can make it more complex to manage, provision and support the storage environment. And while using multiple vendors can often bring better pricing, buying from one vendor can result in volume discounts.

“You may have tried to contain costs by forcing multiple incumbent vendors to continuously compete against each other, with price as the primary differentiator,” Reichman writes. “This strategy can reduce prices and limit vendor lock-in, but it can also lead to management complexity and poor capacity utilization.”

The report recommends keeping things simple by and using fewer vendors when possible. However, that advice comes with several caveats: buying all storage from one vendor means taking the bad with the good, and some vendors’ product families differ so much “they may as well come from different vendors.”

Of course, I’m sure there are horror stories out there from organizations that have had bad experience with lock-in as well as those who’ve had incompatibility issues with products from multiple vendors.

April 24, 2008  10:40 AM

EMC, IBM, thin provisioning and wild animals

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

My daily rounds of the storage industry web this morning brought me to The Storage Anarchist, a blog by an EMCer that I often find interesting. As it turns out, one of my articles was in his sights yesterday following EMC’s earnings call.

Most of the reaction to the first-quarter earnings announcement was rather more negative than I think EMC would like, considering they posted record revenues. All the financial analysts on the call, wild eyed from the fog of battle out in the market as the economy sinks further into doldrums, seemed not to believe that EMC’s forecasts for the year were really remaining unchanged. And they did ask plenty of pointed questions.

TSA’s description is rather more dramatic: “Several of the participating financial analysts inquired about the potential impact that the newly-delivered virtual provisioning for Symmetrix might have on future capacity demands. From the tone of the questions, you could easily imagine a pride of lions circling their prey.”

But I have to say the next sentence surprised me. “And sure enough, by noon Beth Pariseau had her coverage posted on SearchStorage, under the headline EMC’s Tucci: Thin provisioning mandatory but overrated.”

After that there’s some discussion of a Byte and Switch article and there’s no further discussion of my article, so I’m still not precisely sure why it was brought up. A little ways down in the post, though, there’s this reference to a bear that recently killed its trainer that I can’t help but wonder about:

And all I have to say about the bear is: remember, these are wild animals, and they’re driven by instinct and not logic or trust.

Any resemblance between wild animals and industry experts is purely coincidental!

Again, it’s hard to tell exactly where that comment was directed, but I think he compared Mary Jander, Wall Street analysts and me to wild animals? That would certainly be a first for me! :)

So here’s the perspective from the other side of the coin (or cage, as it were). When the CEO of a major storage company explains to the folks on Wall Street exactly how his company is going to continue to make money on a feature billed by many in the industry as a way to not give vendors like EMC quite so much money in the long run, I think it’s probably important for users to hear that perspective on the technology. I think it’s also probably important for users to have a realistic sense of the benefits of a given technology, one they’re not getting from most vendor marketing. That’s the logic and trust I care about.

Meanwhile, TSA saves most of his scantily-veiled critiques for IBM, though of course he never names names. This in turn prompted IBM blogger Barry Whyte to respond with…the news that IBM is planning thin provisioning for SVC. IBM is giving thin provisioning the title, “Space Efficient Volumes/Vdisks (SEV).” 

So lets think about this, if for example you had an appliance that could front all storage types, provide you with online data migration between said storage types, let you manage copy services across them all, soon provide Space Efficient characteristics, natively support any SATA or flash device you decided you wanted, provide many thousands of disks behind a single management interface and integrate with all the ‘Israeli’ products you could imagine… why would you care that just one of your products that has its largest footprint as a Mainframe box didn’t have all of those features, when according to Mr Burke, everything the Mainframe does well it does itself, and by his own admission won’t need or use features like Thin Provisioning.

Interesting. But what’s odd there is that the mainframe box IBM sells is the DS8000, and last I heard, IBM’s planning thin provisioning for that too. Or maybe it will be getting thin provisioning by way of SVC?

April 23, 2008  12:43 PM

Gloves come off in the storage cloud

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

HP Upline crashed this week, just a few days after it was launched. As Chris Rock once said, “Grand opening, Grand closing.”

The crash of such a brand-new service isn’t as impactful on end users as a crash with a more established player, but it’s still got to hurt for HP, especially given the importance for storage vendors of establishing competitive offerings in cloud computing and SaaS sooner rather than later.  

According to Sheila Watkins, spokeswoman for HP’s Personal Systems Group, “HP chose to temporarily suspend the Upline service to investigate what we believe is an isolated technical issue.” She said HP expects Upline will be available again by the end of the week.

EMC, which has made cloud computing a top priority, went on the offensive with this right away. “HP Upline continues the long tradition of screwing HP customers,” trumpeted EMC employee Storagezilla, who revealed he’s not only a critic of HP, he’s also (technically) one of those customers. Part of his post also includes a copy of the letter HP sent to its customers apologizing for the crash and promising refunds. No way obtaining such a letter was what he was hoping for when signing up for the account…

Meanwhile, type in the words ‘HP Upline’ in Google, and you might see a tasteful advisory from EMC’s Mozy, asking: “Shafted by Upline?”

Carbonite has Upline-ified its own search engine marketing with a similar, if less bluntly worded, ad.

Elsewhere, hosted storage service provider Nirvanix has mounted its strongest attack on rival Amazon S3 yet, offering a 30-day “fee holiday” for all uploads from any source to a new account on its Storage Delivery Network (SDN). If the free 30 days arent’ enough, Nirvanix, which uses a Web content-delivery infrastructure to speed storage transfers over the wire, also unveiled an “Amazon S3 Migration Tool,” specifically meant to get users off S3 and onto the Nirvanix service.

“I say always pick on the biggest guy,” Nirvanix chief marketing officer Johnathan Buckley said. “”If we can show we’re 300 to 400 times as fast as Amazon, why can’t we steal those customers?”

Especially interesting, in light of all this catfighting, is something Storagezilla also pointed out:

Wired wrote a puff piece on Amazon Web Services, the story of which I’ve heard at every web get together from where I’m sitting now, around the world and back again. But what’s interesting is that AWS’s total revenue for 2007 was $100M.

Lets face it $100M in anyone’s language is good money but when you consider that Amazon is the undisputed leader in that space that’s a piddling amount of revenue and a clear sign that this market hasn’t even started moving yet.

April 21, 2008  4:21 PM

Data deduplication: no lifeguard on duty?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

In the course of a conversation today with a new SRM vendor, ArxScan, CEO Mark Fitzsimmons mentioned a use case for the startup’s product that had me raising my eyebrows: basically, keeping data deduplication systems honest.

According to Fitzsimmons, a large pharma company wanted the Arxscan product to migrate data identified as redundant by the data deduplication system to another repository and present it for review through a centralized GUI, so that the customer could sign off on what data was to be deleted.

“So you’re replacing an automated process in the data center with a manual one?” was the confused reaction from one of my editors on the conference call.

“Well, we’re working on automating it,” was the answer. “But the customer found dedupe applications weren’t working so well, and wanted a chance to look at the data before it’s deleted.”

I’ve heard of some paranoia at the high end of the market about data deduplication systems, particularly when it comes to virtual tape libraries or large companies in sensitive industries like, well, pharmaceuticals. One question I’ve heard brought up more than once by high-end users is about backing up the deduplication index on tape, the better to be able to recover data from disk drives should the deduplicating array fail. But breaking apart the process for better supervision? That’s a new one for me.

Anyone else heard of anything like this? Or is the customer going overboard?

April 18, 2008  4:33 PM

Data dedupe dance cards filling up

Dave Raffo Dave Raffo Profile: Dave Raffo

IBM’s acquisition of Diligent Technologies today will alter several relationships of major vendors as they look to add data deduplication to their VTLs.

Until now, IBM’s VTL partner was FalconStor while Diligent supplies Hitachi Data Systems and Overland Storage. IBM and HDS say they’re still ommitted to HDS selling Diligent’s ProtecTier software even though it’s now owned by IBM.

“We don’t’ see any change with Diligent, the agreements we’ve had with them will continue,” HDS CTO Hu Yoshida said today. He compared the situation to EMC buying VMware. “VMware works well for us, we drive a lot of business from VMware,” he said. “This is a new world, we’re in an era of coopetition.”

Still, you don’t have to squint hard when reading the statement HDS issued today to see plenty of wiggle room:

The ProtecTIER software from Diligent Technologies offers very tailored data de-duplication technology that addresses only a fraction of the overall business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities that our customers require. This product comprises a single component of the broader portfolio of market-leading back-up and data protection solutions that Hitachi Data Systems offers its customers.

In other words, HDS is saying it could get by fine without ProtectTier. Where else can HDS go if it wants to switch? FalconStor is certainly available now that IBM has Diligent and EMC is partnered with Quantum for dedupe. Sun and Copan sell FalconStor data dedupe software, but Sun and Copan don’t exactly equate to EMC and IBM for disk backup market share. There’s also Sepaton, which has a VTL OEM deal with Hewlett-Packard — although HP has yet to offer Sepaton’s dedupe software.

One dedupe vendor not looking for an OEM partner is Data Domain, which rode deduplication backup products from stealth to IPO in four years and is generally considered the dedupe market leader. Data Domain CEO Frank Slootman says his channel partners wouldn’t appreciate competition from OEMs.

“That’s a decision you have to make early on as a company,” Slootman said. “If you start off as a channel company like we are, it’s difficult to run an OEM model right alongside it because they are incompatible. OEM usually means death to your channel.”

April 18, 2008  12:31 PM

Storage in high places

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Two press releases caught my eye this week that aren’t exactly earth-shattering, but got me thinking about the way the storage market is changing and widening.

First, SanDisk revealed that its flash cards are recording footage of an excursion to Everest by a three-member climbing team sponsored by Dell, Windows Vista, MSN and MSNBC. Here’s a media gallery of the chilly-looking expedition so far.

Then there was also an announcement from RAID, Inc. of its compact Razor RAID array using 2.5-inch SAS drives, billed as “ideal for small spaces such as cockpits, tanks, submarines and other civilian applications with specific space constraints.” The ‘cockpits’ idea got my imagination going.

Between flash memory, with fewer moving parts and power requirements, and small-form-factor hard disks, not to mention the continued increase in content we store digitally, enterprise-level data storage is worming its way into unheard-of environments. As such, many in the industry have been predicting an increasing focus on edge devices, mobile computing environments and the mobile workforce for the storage market. Hopefully enterprise storage managers are paying attention to these new frontiers while architecting storage at headquarters.

Also, since it’s Friday, and who couldn’t use a laugh? Check out this priceless Gizmodo post on an internal Microsoft sales video that recently made its awkward YouTube debut. Key line: “You’ve gotta wonder how, in a company the size of Microsoft, there’s not a single person who [can] step up and say “Hey, you know what? This Vista music video we’re making for the sales department, complete with a cheesy Bruce Springsteen impersonator and horrible music, damages the dignity of not only everyone involved in its production, but everyone who watches it.”

April 17, 2008  4:17 PM

Disk vs. tape, cont’d (ad nauseam)

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Disk vs. tape is not a new argument, but over time it takes on different permutations, especially as disk-based backup in its various forms gains popularity and new technologies get introduced like data deduplication that bring some of the economics of disk closer to those of tape.

One theme I’ve heard cropping up in this discussion among high-end vendors lately is the idea of people in large enterprises deploying vast amounts of disk for backup, then realizing the cost inefficiencies, and space and power requirements of disk, and finally running back to tape either alongside or as a replacement for disk.

This back-and-forth popped up again in post written by IBM’s Tony Pearson in response to a post written by Hitachi Data Systems’ Hu Yoshida. Yoshida’s post referred to a conversation with a storage admin at SNW who said his robotic tape libraries were actually drawing more power than his enterprise VTL.

This idea makes Pearson sputter:

I am not disputing [the] approach. It is possible that [the user] is using a poorly written backup program, taking full backups every day, to an older non-IBM tape library, in a manner that causes no end of activity to the poor tape robotics inside. But rather than changing over to a VTL, perhaps Mark might be better off investigating the use of IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, using progressive backup techniques, appropriate policies, parameters and settings, to a more energy-efficient IBM tape library. In well tuned backup workloads, the robotics are not very busy. The robot mounts the tape, and then the backup runs for a long time filling up that tape, all the meanwhile the robot is idle waiting for another request.

The weird thing is, I’ve heard plenty of vendors debating this of their own accord, usually taking sides along product lines with tape-centric vendors taking the position Pearson did, and vendors who sell disk for secondary storage taking the opposite view.

But I’m curious. I’m sure there’s some middle ground where the advantages and disadvantages just depend on personal preferences. But might there really be a trend here? Are users finding problems with disk-based systems and re-integrating tape? How many organizations really even left tape totally behind to begin with? And how do new data reduction/power reduction technologies change the equation? One thing not addressed by either Pearson or Yoshida’s post is where MAID might come into this argument, as well as the potential combination of MAID and dedupe.

April 16, 2008  1:17 PM

ExaGrid, Dell, EqualLogic partner on dedupe

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Dell’s been so acquisitive in storage lately that every new announcement from them, especially about partnerships, has me paying attention. I don’t believe that their buying spree is necessarily over.

This week, Dell certified ExaGrid’s diskless iSCSI deduplication gateway with EqualLogic’s iSCSI SAN for secondary dedupe storage. ExaGrid claims this is the first iSCSI-based deduplication gateway. Data Domain also sells a gateway, but it’s for FC. NetApp’s deduplication works on its V-series gateways, but isn’t separable from the OnTap OS.

Still, given the concern about performance for even FC-based dedupe systems, I wonder what the appeal is of an iSCSI dedupe system based on a gateway. It seems Dell is still sussing this out, too. Senior manager for Dell/EqualLogic product marketing Kevin Wittmer said Dell will not resell or support the combined product. It instead will be sold entirely through ExaGrid channels (the two have mutual channel partners).

Wittmer said this was a project begun on the ExaGrid side before Dell acquired EqualLogic, and added “you’re going to see Dell paying attention to this market space.”

Does that mean Dell will try to make its own foray into deduplication? In other words, is this ExaGrid partnership a test to see if the technology is worth acquiring?

“We will continue to look at the market space,” Wittmer responded. “I don’t want to go into detail right now on Dell’s product strategy.”

Then Wittmer said another thing that you could take one of several ways – “… it has much bigger implications that could impact all of Dell.”

April 15, 2008  12:42 PM

Oracle jumps into archiving; can Microsoft be far behind?

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Oracle is getting into the archiving game with the Oracle Universal Online Archive, which will archive email as well as unstructured files. The product will use Oracle’s own database as the underlying infrastructure, with Oracle Fusion Middleware on top for data ingestion and user interface.

Despite the name, the product is on-site software. There will also be an email-only option, Oracle E-Mail Archive Service, which supports Exchange, Notes and SMTP mail. The products are expected to be available sometime this year. The Universal Archive goes for $20 per named user or $75,000 per CPU, while the Email Archive is priced at $50 per named user or $40,000 per CPU.

Not only am I not surprised to see Oracle get into the data archiving space, to be honest, I’m wondering what took them so long. And while writing the previous paragraph, I said “Ouch” a few times–when it was noted that Oracle can archive multiple content types in one repository, which most third-party archivers can’t do yet; when it was noted that Oracle can support not only Notes but SMTP on top of Exchange, which most third party archivers can’t do yet; and again when I saw the steep pricing.

Be that as it may, it’s been well known that databases like SQL are the basis for most third-party archiving software today. It’s also been well known that customers are catching on to archiving for database data as well. Finally, it’s bleedin’ obvious that Exchange is the dominant email platform and the dominant focus in email archiving. And I’ve wondered for a long time why companies like Oracle and Microsoft didn’t get in on this, since they have what seems like a slam dunk: ownership of the application and core technology, and mighty brand power that could conceivably crush the third-party market.

Easy, there, killer, was the response from ESG analyst Brian Babineau, who studies the archiving space. He pointed out that database archiving systems have to understand both the underlying database structure and the overlaying application, something Oracle isn’t doing. They may have an 800-lb. gorilla brand, he said, “but they have a tougher fight because there are native database archiving and native enterprise application vendors.”

To me this still leaves open the question of why Microsoft doesn’t just add archiving to Exchange, but Babineau pointed out the folks from Redmond already dipped a toe into the archiving market with FrontBridge and didn’t get too far. But I still have trouble believing that the Exchange archiving market would last long if Microsoft were to make a stronger move, say by acquiring a company like Mimosa and making stubbing and archiving a part of the Exchange interface.

April 14, 2008  2:36 PM

More SaaS: distribution and the appeal of outsourced archiving

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

My previous post about the value-add of online backup got me thinking about another series of conversations I’ve had recently about data storage SaaS in general (more on the compliance and archiving side than in backup, per se).

One value prop I hadn’t really thought about was suggested to me today by Jim Till, CMO of a company called Xythos. Xythos began as a SaaS-architected content management product during the tech bubble, watched that bubble and the market for storage service providers burst, re-architected for on-premise deployment at midsized to large enterprises, and is just now coming full circle with a SaaS offering again. Till said that customers of Xythos’s online product tend to be small organizations or remote and branch offices of larger organizations.

But in addition to the bandwidth issue, Till said, the reason organizations cite for going to a service for storage has little to do with bandwidth or expertise. He says the uptake has been among organizations relatively small in manpower but in “knowledge manager” industries such as tech consulting, law, or medicine. “They tend to be organizations where the biggest challenge is that standard methods of content storage aren’t accessible to distributed groups of people, and they need to uniformly apply policy against distributed content,” he said.

Any organization with data that’s widely distributed is unlikely to have a lot of data in one place. But it’s the distribution of that data, not its size or the experience of data management staff, that makes SaaS make sense, at least from Till’s point of view.

At least one recent case study I did on email archiving SaaS is consistent with this picture, too. For one of Fortiva’s email archiving SaaS customers, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the problem wasn’t a 1.5 TB Exchange store, but 25,00 full and part-time employees receiving 12 million inbound messages a year at 103 different locations.

If this becomes a trend, the landscape of SaaS vendors might extend beyond traditional on-premise backup vendors to those who sell storage consolidation and accessibility over a wide area, such as Riverbed and Silver Peak.

Now, wouldn’t that be fun?

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