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The exciting times continue in storage: The news in October was Dell buying EMC (NYSE:EMC), and now in time for the holidays NetApp (NASDAQ:NTAP) is picking up SolidFire. Both transactions, in our view, are born out the disruptive impact that flash memory and the cloud model are having on the storage market. One of our new customers recently put it this way: “Our current storage vendors are trying to sell us a typewriter but we are looking for a laptop.”
Market leader EMC was arguably the first of the incumbents to recognize the disruption, making two all-flash array (AFA) acquisitions in XtremIO in 2012 and DSSD in 2014. NetApp originally decided to build rather than buy a purpose-built AFA. That product, FlashRay, has arguably been late to market, but checks many of the right boxes: always on deduplication and compression; variable block size (which helps deliver ~2X greater data reduction as well as better performance); snapshots and clones built on top of the deduplication to maximize efficiency; and a focus on simplicity. At the same time, NetApp has all-flash FAS/ONTAP for the existing NetApp customer interested in more performance, as well as all-flash EF (derived from the Engenio product line) for those customers less inclined toward full data management from the storage. So SolidFire would have become NetApp’s fourth all-flash array: Two disk retrofits in FAS/ONTAP and EF, and two purpose-built AFAs in FlashRay and SolidFire. Of course, with the announcement NetApp shared that they are killing FlashRay in favor of the other three. SolidFire is no doubt more mature than FlashRay, but in our understanding lacks some of FlashRay’s advanced features like variable block size and supreme simplicity. SolidFire is also significantly less efficient in its use of hardware, by for example using mirroring rather than high-availability and RAID to protect data. Given the overlap between the remaining three product lines, it will be interesting to see how NetApp positions and invests in each going forward. Will they, for example, work to transition the majority of customers who have taken a wait and see approach to Clustered ONTAP (both the disk and all-flash versions) to SolidFire? (For more details on how the technology stacks up, please see this blog from Pure’s head of product.)
Either way, for NetApp, a company known for its primary focus on a single product line, to now be betting on three all-flash arrays means something exciting is up. When the market leader Dell/EMC, with the most to lose given their share, apparently places its bets on XtremIO and DSSD rather than VMAX, VNX and Compellent, something is up. In our view, the storage industry will see more change over the next five years then it has in the last twenty!
Why? Most of the data center storage in use today was designed more than 20 years ago, and storage has simply not innovated at the pace of the rest of the data center. Storage fell behind due to the constraints of mechanical disk—Moore’s Law has turned disk into tape, with servers and networks getting 1,000-fold faster while hard drives have barely moved. At the same time, incumbent storage solutions are far too complicated, services intensive (multi-thousand page manuals anyone?), and too expensive to deliver on the low-cost, simplicity, elasticity and near-zero overhead promise of the cloud.
In our view, the impending all-flash and cloud revolution in storage hit an inflection point when Pure launched the first AFA below the cost of Tier 1 disk in 2011. Today, flash media costs less than the fast (15K rpm) disks that underpin the $24 billion Tier 1 storage and related software market (and that’s without the data reduction introduced by Pure Storage). Moreover, flash is an order of magnitude faster, denser, more power efficient, and more reliable than disk. Again, in our view, flash memory has simply rendered the fast disk obsolete. (Of course, slow/7200rpm disk remains below the cost of flash, but generally offers insufficient performance for Tier 1 workloads.)
The rhetoric from many of the incumbent storage vendors today about sticking with disk-centric storage designs is akin to that of the tape vendors when disk-based backup emerged. In contrast, the next-generation disk backup companies said “Why would you want to start with 20-year-old tape technology? Don’t you want something purpose-built for disk?” In our view, history repeats. After all, disk and tape have more in common than flash and disk do.
What does this mean for existing NetApp customers? The same thing it means for Dell/EMC, HP, Hitachi, IBM and Oracle customers: Think carefully about your next storage purchase or refresh. Bring in some of the newer technologies to do hands-on compares with the legacy alternatives. Pure Storage’s all-flash array can eliminate a cumulative year of wait time for disk each month. What could your business accomplish with a year of additional information systems productivity every 30 days? And the best AFAs offer simplicity comparable to that of the public cloud, and will save you money to boot. Last but not least, any time you invest evaluating the storage products will almost certainly be paid back in selecting a better technology or benefitting from more attractive pricing from your exiting vendor or both!
We hope in that exploration you will consider Pure Storage. We would love the opportunity to prove how much better your storage can be. When considering alternatives consider these questions:
Choose the data center storage that best meets your needs but consider the above to determine the staying power of the storage technology you select—we expect many of the disk-centric storage designs to be mothballed before your next refresh cycle, while many upstart solutions will not reach critical mass in the solid-state, cloud-friendly data center of the future. And while you’re at it, why not see what all of the excitement is about? In our view, Pure Storage uniquely positions customers to harness the flash and cloud disruptions reshaping enterprise storage, and we are the vendor to which other AFA solutions are most frequently benchmarked. We would be delighted to have a conversation about how storage can transform your business while saving you more money than you spend.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Pure!
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