Next week is the inaugural Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas. For those of us in the storage industry, the dropping of the EMC brand from the conference title drove home the point that Dell is calling the shots. Since this is Dell Technologies World, and not Dell EMC World or EMC World, comparatively, we are expecting less substantial announcements from Dell with respect to the storage portfolio. Those of you making the trip to Las Vegas (and interested in storage!) probably have many questions of your own, but we thought we would add a few to see what this new world has to offer.

1. How much does Storage matter to Dell?

Despite still owning a dizzying array of storage products – VMAX, XtremIO, Unity, SC/Compellent, Isilon, Data Domain, ECS, and PowerVault – we wonder how much storage still matters to Dell. Many legacy EMC executives have left including David Goulden, past president of Dell EMC, Chad Sakac, past president of Dell EMC CPSD, and most recently, Jeremy Burton, past CMO of EMC – just a month before the most important user conference of the company’s calendar. At this point the leadership roles at Dell EMC are largely filled with legacy Dell server and PC executives.

According to Dell’s Q4FY18 results, storage revenues declined 15% from 2016 to 2017. And according to IDC’s industry reports its market share has dropped from 37.4% in 2014 to 27.7% share in 2017. That’s a big drop. Meanwhile, IDC reported that Dell’s HCI numbers have increased 247% since it started separating HCI revenues in the third quarter of 2017. We suspect that Dell is more committed to HCI (where they can sell more servers) than they are to storage.

The big question is whether or not Dell will use this inaugural Dell Technologies World to put forward a strong storage agenda, as opposed to just primarily selling servers – with some storage attached.

2. Is Dell committed to my product?

As noted earlier, Dell sells six storage products, and in our opinion there is significant overlap between them. And where there is overlap there is typically product rationalization. Last year, we wondered whether VMAX or XtremIO would be the go-to high end solution for Dell; we also wondered whether the SC/Compellent solution or Unity would ultimately be the go-to midrange solution; and don’t forget, there’s still Isilon and Data Domain.

We recommend you ask Dell to provide clear guidance on which product to use for which use case. Also ask for clear roadmap and investment plans so you can make an informed decision.

In our view a simpler portfolio works a lot better for customers – as long as that portfolio can handle a wide range of use cases. Pure makes it very easy – for your Tier 1 and Tier 2 applications, Pure’s FlashArray allows you to grow from a small to a very large multi-petabyte environment, with no planned downtime or data migrations even as you upgrade within and across generations. And for backup and AI/Analytics applications, Pure’s FlashBlade™ has demonstrated that it can provide the fastest restores in the industry, and our partnership with NVIDIA has seen FlashBlade become the product of choice for artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) and analytics applications.

3. What is the roadmap and migration path to providing NVMe storage for all?

Sam Grocott SVP of Marketing at Dell EMC has stated in a recent article that it is not interested in making NVMe drives available for the midrange. However, IDC and other industry analysts agree that by 2020, NVMe will be the de facto standard in storage. NVMe is such a big deal because it (in combination with fast networks and other tech innovations) has the potential to transform not just storage, but the architecture of the data center.

We recommend you ask Dell to clarify their portfolio roadmap and investment specifically around NVMe, both in the storage backend and in the front end via NVMe over fabrics (NVMe/F). We also recommend asking whether any forthcoming NVMe storage will require a forklift upgrade to get to it – with planned downtime, data migrations, or re-purchases of your storage (more on this below). We also recommend you ask Dell whether there will be a premium to pay for NVMe. Ideally, NVMe should not come as a premium. If the industry analysts are right, and NVMe becomes the new standard, then there shouldn’t be any premium.

We’re big believers in NVMe, and have been shipping NVMe in our products since 2015 starting with NVMe NV-RAMs and pre-wiring in our FlashArray//M arrays, through to our FlashArray//X with 100% NVMe on the back-end and an NVMe/oF-ready front-end.

4. How is Dell approaching modern data protection?

Backups are important, and NetWorker does the job well. But in today’s world, it’s about how quickly you can restore. The rate of change resulting from agile development cycles and the way DevOps works means that applications can be upgraded and updated regularly, but when something goes wrong, the recovery of data is critical, and should be measured in seconds and minutes, not hours and days. Solutions from Veeam, Rubrik, Cohesity and CommVault augment Pure’s FlashBlade for truly modern data protection and rapid recovery.

We recommend you ask Dell about its roadmap and investment to support modern data protection methodologies and particularly rapid restore.

5. Is Dell committed to bringing efficient, effortless data reduction that does not require compromises to their platforms?

Data reduction is critical to making all-flash both economical and efficient, and comes in the form of data deduplication and compression. In today’s world, both of these technologies should be table stakes. Yet in Dell’s portfolio of products, while some offer one or both, Dell recommends deduplication be restricted or turned off under normal to high utilization. So while deduplication exists, it appears to come with significant caveats. VMAX, Dell’s top of the line storage array, doesn’t even support deduplication for most applications.

We recommend you ask Dell when they plan to bring deduplication, without caveats, to VMAX. And per above, whether they will do it in a way that avoids another forklift upgrade.

Pure’s FlashArray data reduction leads the market, powering an average total efficiency[1] across our installed based of 10:1. Compare this with Dell’s 4:1 efficiency guarantee. Typically, we see a 2X better data reduction compared with our competitors. We do this in software, and it is always-on – without affecting the performance of the system. Absent good data reduction, you’re simply paying too much for your all-flash storage.

6. When will Dell stop requiring forklift upgrades?

While every storage (and infrastructure) buyer loves to take advantage of new technology and innovation, no one wants to go through an expensive, disruptive upgrade process to get there. It’s 2018, and consumers of IT demand that infrastructure is simply always on. No planned downtime. No data migrations. Just non-stop, high-performance storage services.

Yet Dell continues to release new products that require such forklift upgrades. And while Dell’s Future Proof Loyalty program appears to help offset some of the costs, it does nothing to address the underlying technological limitations that are the root cause of forklift upgrades. Building storage that is 100% non-disruptive to operate and upgrade, even across generations, is indeed tough to do. But the cloud model of operations demands it. Otherwise the consumers of IT will find alternatives, often in the public cloud.

We recommend you ask Dell when they will commit to eliminating such forklift upgrades.

Pure’s FlashArray is deeply engineered for 100% non-disruptive operations and upgrades, even across product generations. It is even 100% field replaceable, from the media to the controllers to the software and even the backplane – all without planned downtime or data migrations. This core set of Evergreen™ innovations is the enabler of our unique Evergreen business model, and has powered seven generations of storage since we shipped our first FlashArray in 2012.

7. Will VMware remain independent?

There is no question that Dell is pushing its VMware-based HCI strategy very hard (which makes sense for them since Dell sells lots of servers). A driving factor behind VMware’s success to date is that it has worked tirelessly with every storage vendor in the market (including Pure!) to drive adoption across the industry. With the rumors of a potential reverse merger between Dell and VMware, we wonder whether VMware will begin to favor Dell only. If this happens, we believe that it would be negative both for the industry and for Dell.

Let’s be honest, VMware is not the only virtualization platform out there. Hyper-V is a worthy alternative, as is KVM. Containers are also becoming popular and can help accelerate business innovation and competitiveness. We hope that Dell will recognize the value of VMware’s independence and allow it to remain so as it interacts with Dell’s competitors since this independence benefits the industry (and their customers) at large.

Wrap-up: Where’s the after-party?

In all seriousness, big conferences are not only a great place to learn, but also to network and have some fun. Have an awesome week in Las Vegas at Dell Technologies World, and if you’d like to make a comparison to a company that is 100% committed to storage and AI innovation, we’d love to see you in May in San Francisco for Pure//Accelerate 2018.

[1] Includes deduplication, compression and thin provisioning.