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How will EMC's competition respond?

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The competition's responses

This leads us to the point where we guess that HDS will introduce a clustered follow-on product to the USP-V. It will support up to 8 controllers and at least 3,000 disks, surpassing the current V-Max, with a road map to 10,000 disks plus. HDS has refreshed USP steadily since its 2004 introduction, but the basic architecture is new five years old. It is possible that HP and Oracle's Sun hardware division will continue to OEM high-end storage from HDS and they will surely have been asked by HDS for their opinions about the future direction of HDS' USP-V technology.

At 3PAR the two founders are working together in a chief technology officer pairing. We shouldn't imply anything special from this according to 3PAR, but commentators think that this will result in a faster and higher-capacity Super InServe, with more than 8 controllers, much higher capacity and more of the leading edge storage functional innovation which 3PAR is so good at.

NetApp has flagged it has a new high-end hardware product coming. We can speculate about its characteristics in this way: there have been a few SoftChoice job ads talking about a storage engineer needed by NetApp with reference to "(FAS2000, FAS3000, FAS6000, FAS7000)" products. These job postings are no longer current. There is no FAS7000 in NetApp's product range, so this might refer to the post-FAS6000 product.

With NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven having talked 2-3 of years ago about a new product called Excelsior, a follow-on from the FAS 980, with 8-nodes and 1,000 drive support, it seems likely that Excelsior was split. The FAS6000 supports around 1,100 drives, so it got the disk drives. However, we're still waiting for an 8-node NetApp product.

Okay, the logic goes: add 8-node hardware to ONTAP 8, the cluster-capable combination of ONTAP 7G and GX. Then spec out something more scalable in capacity and performance terms to meet Isilon's products in the clustered filer space, and EMC's Symm V-MAX in the clustered controller block storage space. That indicates a product which supports, say, 2,000+ drives and has 8-way clustering, with separation between the clustered controllers and storage nodes.

It might also introduce SAS drive and SSD support.

If NetApp were to offer clustering to its base of installed FAS boxes, it would mean controller upgrades and an interconnect addition. Alternatively the FAS 7000 could have clustering which would not be made available to NetApp's installed product base. That would be an easier engineering task. So, NetApp may introduce an FAS 7000, which will take full advantage of ONTAP 8 with 8-way clustering and possible access node/storage node separation. It is less likely to add clustering capability to the installed FAS 6000 base via controller upgrades.

This leaves IBM. It may introduce a DS 9000 with clustered controllers separated from its multi-tiered storage nodes. There is an interesting diversion here, which is to wonder what you get when you add an SVC front-end to a DS 8000 back-end? That would be a head transplant, as the SVC would replace most of the DS 8000's current controller functionality.

This set of speculations has been prepared independently of the vendors mentioned. None have confirmed that they are looking ahead this way. Nevertheless, storage hardware and software goes through major refreshes and how else can HDS (plus HP and Sun), IBM and NetApp respond to EMC's Symm V-Max and the success of 3PAR? Indeed, how else can 3PAR maintain its edge and continue to grow its business over the next five and ten years?

Hopefully we'll see the new high-end NetApp machine later this year, and that should increase the competitive pressure on 3PAR, HDS, and IBM with, possibly, interesting disclosures coming in 2010. ®

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