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Taneja Blog / Data Center Systems

EMC gets flashier, how the portfolio grows…

Yesterday saw EMC make some major flash architectural, portfolio, and roadmap announcements by way of introducing a new name for what was previously VFCache, and announcing ready for beta XtremIO product that is now marching toward a near term GA.

The newly renamed XtremFS remains a PCIe server-based storage accelerator (SSA) that will sit resident in data center servers and cache hot data from shared storage.  As has been proven by others, this can make shared storage behind many workloads highly performant while massively reducing the load on the shared storage array.  As before, EMC still claims they do better than others on CPU utilization.  But the science comes down to the effectiveness of caching algorithms and efficiency in using the SSD substrate, and the field of players is very broad now - including SoC and HBA/CNA vendors like Marvell and QLogic who both have years of experience in CPU efficiency and who are equipped with some of the industry's brightest minds in data management.  Moreover, these vendors also have production and capability advantages, that I'll not go into here.  This race will be hard for EMC, and the winner may be determined by not just these capabilities, but equally by who has the broadest reach in the OEM and channel around server hardware, and hence the best ability to get products pre-installed in data center servers.  The question is out on whether EMC can run this race and win, and how much innovation they can bring to market to outpace other vendors to stack the deck in their favor despite the challenge of server OEM reach.  In many ways, XtremFS still looks like a defense for EMC rather than a vision.  A few of the many other vendors with an offering here could arguably move into a storage system and offer some integrated functionality, or just as bad, decrease demand for the more performant and higher margin EMC systems.
Even more significant, EMC announced a much more tangible XtremIO storage array product that looks poised to challenge the best of the current market of next generation storage startups that are making use of SSD or hybrid SSD/HDD architectures.  XtremIO brings a compelling set of features, including capacity optimization and extreme SSD efficiency that should make it ideal for a multitude of the industry's hottest workloads.  Having XtremIO in the market will make it more challenging for young vendors to get the mindshare and attention they would otherwise merit, especially in the very large EMC customer base.
It is now turning into a buyers market for any vendors on the acquisition path, as EMC XtremIO will put pressure on smaller vendors.  That being the case, I suspect there's plenty of margin to play with, and that EMC will try to keep XtremIO at a premium for the time being in order to avoid cannibalizing existing mid-range and enterprise systems.
The bigger challenge for EMC will be how to walk this line, and still make the customer feel like they are representing one well-unified and targeted set of storage technology.  With the introduction of XtremIO arrays, this gets ever harder, and for the newer storage innovators, this may help counter the pull of the EMC brand in customers needing performance.  Customers are bound to ask more questions around "why don't these things work together?" and "why is that architecture different from this architecture, and why can't I have a good blend of both?"  For both the company and their channel, the story gets a little harder to tell.  NetNet, both competitors and EMC can find positives and negatives that will only bear fruit as the message is taken to the customer (and EMC has advantages here), but the energy has clearly shifted in EMC's favor around XtremIO.  But this has by no means been made as clear for XtremFS.


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