Full disclosure: We’re not Dell storage customers. But we think it’s a pivotal year for Dell in reaffirming its commitment to storage. With the recent up-swing as a result of better sales execution, is Dell matching its newfound commitment to selling storage with an equal commitment to innovating in storage? What better place to hear about the innovation roadmap ahead than next week at Dell Technologies World?

Six Things We Hope to See at Dell Technologies World

If we were Dell storage customers, this would be our “wish list” of things to see at Dell World:

1. Launch of the New MidRange.Next Offering, with a Path to Get There

Dell’s Vice Chairman of Products & Operations Jeff Clarke has been on record several times finally laying out the roadmap for storage product line consolidation at Dell. Nowhere was this consolidation roadmap more aggressive than in the midrange space, with EMC Unity/VNX, EMC XtremIO, and Dell Compellent all giving way to a new MidRange. Next offering, promised to be coming in 2019:

Source: Dell Technologies Analyst Meeting, Sept 18, 2018

With this new and unproven midrange offering just around the corner, Dell customers are likely asking themselves some tough questions: Do I keep spending money and investing down a deprecated path, or do I wait for and trust the unproven availability of a new platform?

This transition is a great opportunity for Dell to show its commitment to customers. Here’s what we hope they’ll do:

  • Provide free and truly non-disruptive migration options for customers to .Next.
  • Allow full-value trade-in of existing flash TBs from Unity, XtremIO, and Compellent toward .Next.
  • Give a data reduction guarantee to make sure customer data fits in the new platform (with likely differing data-reduction algorithms).
  • Provide an availability guarantee to give customers the confidence to put a new and unproven platform in production environments.

If possible, we wouldn’t buy any deprecated Dell mid-range product until MidRange.Next ships GA. But if we had to buy or extend my maintenance investment in Unity, Compellent, or XtremIO, we’d be sure to get the above assurances from Dell in writing before purchasing.

2. PowerMax Path to Cloud

With more and more IT organizations under the mandate to embrace a hybrid cloud strategy, it’s increasingly important to ensure that your on-prem investments provide a path to the cloud vs. on-prem lock-in. While Unity, Isilon, and DataDomain have cloud connections, today PowerMax doesn’t. Why should customers of Dell’s high-end flagship array be left out of meaningful native integration with the public cloud to enable workloads to easily move between on-prem and cloud? Let’s hope this year the PowerMax path to the public cloud is delivered.

This hybrid-cloud flexibility is exactly what Pure FlashArray™ customers enjoy today: They can buy FlashArray to run their mission-critical workloads on-prem, and have confidence that they can run hybrid and easily move or migrate these workloads to the cloud (and back!) with Pure’s upcoming Cloud Block Store on AWS.

3. All-Flash Data Domain with GB/s Restore Speeds

One of the biggest challenges we hear from Data Domain customers is around restore speed. While backup bandwidth is great, it appears that Data Domain just wasn’t optimized for fast restores… in fact it’s hard to even find a spec for Data Domain arrays on restore speed (we’ve tried!). With the success that Pure customers are having to deploy FlashBlade™ as a rapid-recovery target, we hope we’ll see Dell finally come out with an all-flash Data Domain. But how fast will it restore? How optimized for flash will the architecture be to make it cost-effective? Will it match FlashBlade’s >10 GB/s restore speeds?

4. End-to-End NVMe, With a Path to Get There

We’ve long been fans of all-NVMe flash at Pure It helped us break the 1ms latency barrier to deliver all-flash solutions in the 100s of µs latency. We announced last quarter that the majority of our shipments are now outfitted w/ NVMe flash, and we also support NVMe-oF over RDMA Ethernet for server connectivity. And industry analysts have told us that other vendors are struggling to break into even double-digit percentages of NVMe.

While we applaud Dell for getting NVMe into PowerMax, we think it’s time to get NVMe across the whole storage product line. And perhaps more importantly, we hope Dell will give customers a path to cost-effectively get to NVMe, without having to buy wholly-new storage platforms (i.e. the VMAX → PowerMAX transition). At Pure we made NVMe a non-disruptive transparent upgrade to all our FlashArray//X systems and gave customers TB-for-TB trade-in credit toward NVMe with our Evergreen™ Capacity Consolidation program. The bar was set (in 2017) by Pure.

5. True OPEX Consumption for all Dell Products, Portable to Cloud

IT organizations are increasingly under the mandate to transform to the cloud model. That means both moving applications to the cloud and transforming on-prem operations to the cloud model. As a result, we see an increasing desire from customers to buy everything in the cloud model — even on-prem infrastructure. This means usage-based consumption that can flex up and down, and hits the OPEX line for accounting.

This is why Pure created our Evergreen Storage Service (ES2) delivering the cloud model for consumption for on-prem gear that Pure owns, but places in your data center. It’d be a great move for the industry if Dell followed suit and moved beyond the leading options offered by Dell Financial Services (especially now that leases often hit the CAPEX line with new accounting rules) to offering a true OPEX subscription for all Dell Storage products. And while we’re at it, how about making those subscriptions portable between on-prem and cloud, so that today’s on-prem expenditures are building towards tomorrow’s cloud flexibility?

6. Transparent Pricing: No More “Transformational” Bundling & ELA Lock-In

We’ve seen a dramatic rise in customers reporting that the “new Dell” is increasingly trying to drive procurement through massive multi-product TLAs (“Transformational License Agreements”), bundling the thing you may need to buy (e.g. VMware) with the things you don’t really want to buy or may not be best-of-breed (you can decide what fits in this bucket in your environment). All of this to give customers a “great deal.”

While this bundle allows you to pay more up-front to get a “great deal,” history has shown that consolidating more and more of your spend into a single mega-vendor often leads to lock-in and higher prices. It also coaxes you into buying many mediocre products along with the products you really value — which in the end costs more to manage. And perhaps worst, such mega-deals also force a lot of up-front spending to secure the best pricing, which is the wrong approach in today’s high change-rate, high cost-reduction IT environment driven by cloud. Buy what you need today, and buy tomorrow’s IT tomorrow when it is cheaper tomorrow.

Imagine you gave your son $20 to go down to the local pet store to buy that puppy he’s been asking for so long. He comes home so excited because the store owner gave him a “great deal” by bundling the puppy he wanted with a cat, parakeet, iguana, and a bunny. Not only do these animals not really get along (integrate well) or share the same cage (managed with a common API) — who gets stuck managing the chaos? Look, potty-training a rabbit is really difficult. Wouldn’t it have been nice if your son had just paid $10 for the puppy he wanted and invested the extra $10 toward college?

The moral of the story: We recommend that you ask Dell to give you a great price on the product you want in the size that you need today. That’s fair and transparent pricing.

The Big Question

For Dell, the big question is simple. If they don’t announce a complete vision across all of these elements, are they really in the storage business? Or are they just boot-strapping storage with their server/virtualization business, and using the profits it creates to drive innovation investment elsewhere in the portfolio?

To Vegas (and Austin?)

With that, we wish you safe travels to Vegas. We hope that you use this week to get a better sense for Dell’s commitment to storage innovation. And, of course, we’d love to see you in Austin in September at Pure//Accelerate for a week of talking shop with the most forward-thinking storage and cloud infrastructure architects, and a huge dose of Pure Storage innovation!