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Taneja Blog / Cloud / Data Center Systems

EMC gets into Server Vendor Knickers with ScaleIO Acquisition

EMC bought ScaleIO last week for an undisclosed price. What is EMC doing with flash in the server? Didn’t they already do a deal with Virident and others for PCIe flash products recently? And, of course, they have already announced the all-flash array, based on the XtremIO acquisition. How many flash products do they want to offer? And what is EMC’s Flash Division doing buying a product that works with both flash and HDDs? These are all good questions that deserve good answers. Here is the way I see it.

The results from our recent multi-client study on Storage Acceleration and Performance Technologies are in. One of the key findings was that the customers today are still pretty confused about what implementation of flash best suits their needs. A large majority of purchases of flash products in the past have been based almost entirely on what was available in the market. Little surprise that 26% have deployed some form of server based PCIe flash and 32% have deployed one or more hybrid storage arrays (PCIe-based flash and hybrid arrays were the first incarnations of flash). Given FusionIO’s early entry in PCIe Flash, if an organization had an application seriously crying out for IO, they bought a server card, plugged it in and saw some serious application performance boost. Very tactical and very opportunistic. Similarly, if many applications were being served by an FC SAN, adding a few SSDs in the mix and moving certain volumes to them, made all applications work better. Once again, very tactical and very opportunistic.

However, only now that the industry has started sorting out various flash solutions into categories and describing when to use what type of solution, can we enter into a more strategic decision-making phase. To be sure, it is still too early. Most IT shops are still experimenting. Most vendors have provided little help with use case analyses, best practices, etc. because, frankly, most only have an offering here and an offering there. EMC, on the other hand, is full line storage supplier. It has to serve a wide variety of customer needs. So having a variety of flash-based offerings should not be a surprise.

What is important, however, in my view, is the significance of the ScaleIO solution. There are two factors at play here. Firstly, EMC does not sell servers. However, it competes with HP, IBM, Oracle (Sun) and Dell, who do. These competitors are all building vertical stacks that include servers. EMC partners with Cisco but doesn’t want to miss out on attaching storage solutions to the other four. It knows it is at a disadvantage on this front. Just as it was at a disadvantage when it first started attaching SANs to their servers two decades ago. It not only managed to penetrate accounts with these servers but, given the superiority of its storage offerings, beat the incumbents to the punch. And we all know who has the largest market share for SANs today.

Now that storage is “seeping” back into the servers, EMC wants to do the same. It wants to own storage at all layers, especially at the server layer. That way, it will have a presence along the entire vertical stack. And proximity to applications will only matter more with time. A very strong storage presence in servers is a must for EMC. This is reason #1 for buying ScaleIO.

The second reason has to do with the cloud. While EMC customers are certainly building clouds using EMC Symmetrix and VNX, a lot of them also want to build clouds using commodity storage products, implemented as DAS. As a minimum a defensive measure, EMC wants to be ready for this and not let others run away with this market. Better to cannibalize its own children than have someone else do it to you. ScaleIO product is designed to effectively convert DAS into a SAN, across servers and across flash and HDDs- Think of it as a shareable, flexible DAS. This is a problem several companies in the past have tried to solve, without success. ScaleIO has succeeded. It gives EMC a solid presence in the DAS-based Cloud space. And until HP, IBM, Dell and Oracle come up with their own solution for this, clouds built using their servers, will likely have EMC’s ScaleIO products in them. Even after these competitors have their own offerings, EMC will compete headlong, as it has done in the past with storage arrays.

All in all, this is very smart thinking. Not only does it give EMC an edge over its server competitors, but it also lets them (EMC) play in the evolution of the cloud, in all its forms. The message to server vendors: “If it has to do with storage, we plan to be in your knickers, whether you like it or not.”

  • Premiered: 07/21/13
  • Author: Arun Taneja
Topic(s): Flash SSD EMC Cloud XtremIO Servers ScaleIO FusionIO


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