Storage Transformation Demands New Thinking (When it Comes to Software-Defined Storage, if it Walks like a Duck and Quacks like a Duck, It Still Might be a Pig!)

We live in interesting times right now in the storage business. What was once considered a “boring” sector of IT is now hot again. We have new vendors entering the market at a furious pace, trying to gain position in all-flash, flash attach, and software-defined storage. Additionally, we also have traditional storage incumbents looking to box out the new entrants through different combinations of product re-brand, acquisition and/or partnerships.

The new vendor entrants are the most fun to watch in my opinion. Unencumbered by installed bases, or legacy technology (or politics!) they are free to try new approaches to long-standing issues and roadblocks that always emerge as technology matures. Some new players have truly unique and interesting solutions; others have only marketing spin.

Watching some of the traditional storage vendors try to counter these new offerings is generally quite amusing, and in iStock_000035622116Smallsome cases just plain sad. They trot out technology that has been around for years declaring it to be Software-Defined, and Cloud ready or whatever they think will make them most relevant. The most common response I see is the re-brand. You know the drill: product XYZ was our storage virtualization/storage OS product for years, but now it’s called product ZYX and it’s software-defined storage because we dropped the hardware requirement! So it’s now Software-Defined Storage (SDS)?

It all just serves to remind me why I work where I do. One of the great things about working forEMC is the company’s ability to blend both the innovation and enthusiasm of a startup with our traditional storage business. My group, the Advanced Software Division is a great example of this. EMC looked out over the storage landscape some years ago and made a pretty bold bet. They did not choose to re-purpose and re-brand existing technology. Rather they went outside the box (literally outside the company walls) and hired Amitabh Srivastava to build it from the ground up. Now Amitabh was building cloud storage in his last gig, so he has been in on this SDS, cloud ready stuff for a while. EMC was listening to our customers tell us they needed a new approach, and that’s what we went out and did, starting from scratch to develop a solution that could help customers transition to the next storage generation.

The product that we developed was of course, ViPR, and it’s been fun to watch the impact it has had on the storage market in the year it’s been around. First our competitors said it was vaporware and would never ship; then ViPR shipped. Next they witnessed the traction we received in the press and they all said that they have SDS too, it just wasn’t called SDS; uh-huh. Then they said ViPR only works with EMC hardware; well yeah it does (kinda not smart of us to leave that out) but as we demonstrate in ViPR 2.0, it works with their stuff just too.

So now we are at the point in the compete cycle that I call the “bundle” phase. That’s when you realize you can’t compete very well head to head, so you start adding other stuff off the truck; it’s software-defined storage plus game show answers! Or it’s our old file system plus our old management tools! You just didn’t recognize it as SDS all these years (bad customer! No discounts for you!). Now, I am not trying to throw stones at glass houses. All mature IT vendors have had to deal with something like this at some point in time, and I sure that EMC has been guilty of the same at some point. But not this time.

My point here is to note the impact ViPR has had on the storage market in the year that it has been around; Storage stalwarts like IBM and HDS calling it out by name and new startups are gunning for it. I think it is refreshing to see an incumbent IT company that is willing to take a different approach, something out of the norm to solve a customer problem. As for the other vendors in the storage market: well you better buckle your chinstraps people. ViPR became generally available in September of 2013, we added HDFS in Jan 2014, then ScaleIO (Block) + Geo-distribution/redundancy+ deeper OpenStack integration in June 2014. Sensing a trend? I am looking forward to the next year and beyond to see if these competitors can keep re-spinning, re-branding etc. quickly enough to keep up with the ViPR development teams.

About the Author: Rich Simmons