Are enterprise flash advantages sustainable?

There’s been a lot written about flash SSDs lately, starting with EMC following their announcement of the technology, and followed by other companies wanting a market position in relationship to flash.  From a strictly marketing perspective, EMC pulled off an excellent move, forcing other companies in the industry to respond.  That’s what industry leadership looks like.

Of course, SSDs have been around for a long time, but the big deal this time is flash memory – as opposed to dynamic RAM.  There have been attempts and thoughts about flash for enterprise storage for many years. I was at Convergenet when they attempted to make it work a decade ago.  They couldn’t.  I recall speaking with Joan Wrabetz (Ex CEO of Tricord) several years ago and she was telling me about how the development of flash memory for consumer goods was going to have an inverse “trickle up”  impact in enterprise storage.  That’s not to say that iPod flash is the same as enterprise flash, but it does help to have money flowing into an industry to stimulate technology advancements.

Barry Burke, the Storage Anarchist blogger from EMC has written a couple of good pieces recently.  But he wrote something today that caught my attention and made me pause and wonder:

And judging by the applications I’ve seen flash targeted for by
customers, the early adopters are going to have a pretty big
competitive advantage on their competitors.”

Really?  Like all the technology advantages that Nicholas Carr was discussing a few years ago in his book Does IT Matter?  Even if EMC’s customers can extend some advantages from EMC’s flash products, how long will it take the rest of the industry to gain sufficient competency with flash technology and how much cheaper will it be for everybody to implement afterwards? I’m sure EMC has a road map, but road maps don’t necessarily predict where the roads get bulldozed. Believe me, I’m not hinting at anything here, but I do think EMC will have its work cut out making its first mover advantage stand up over time and it could turn out to be one of those deals where being a first mover is actually a disadvantage because the technology is already so widely available.  It’s a risky business for EMC – leading the way with a technology that is already sliding towards the great plateau of commoditization.

About the Author: Marc Farley