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Dot Hill: Troubles and prospects

Rejiggery pokery with Xiotech

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Dot Hill and Xiotech

What did the announcement with Xiotech entail? It said Dot Hill: "has signed a letter of intent to enter into a technology partnership with Xiotech to enable new virtual storage solutions … involving the Intelligent Storage Networking (iSN) software platform."

Xiotech's CEO and president Alan Atkinson said: "End users deploying desktop and server virtualisation, or implementing cloud storage solutions are demanding a high-performance, versatile storage platform that eliminates the traditional boundaries of physical storage architectures and first-generation virtual storage systems.

"We are looking forward to collaborating with Dot Hill to bring exciting new innovations to market to meet these customer requirements."

ESG senior analyst Mark Peters said: "Xiotech has been a leader in highly reliable storage solutions with its Intelligent Storage Element (ISE) technology and the CorteX environment based on standard Internet access and management interfaces. The Dot Hill/Xiotech partnership should result in powerful, innovative solutions that meet many of today's most critical business needs."

What have we got here? A wannabe high-margin, disk array HW company with a virtualising storage management controller software platform on the one-hand, and a supplier of highly reliable and high-performance sealed canisters of disk drives, Xiotech's ISE, on the other.

The ISE is positioned as a new kind of array building block needing and wanting to be told what to do by super-controller functions positioned in the storage stack above the traditional array controller, witness its deal with Symantec and its FileStore product.

CorteX interface to iSN

What El Reg sees here is Xiotech and Dot Hill building an ISE CorteX interface so that an iSN controller can manage and co-ordinate groups of SE storage "bricks", along with Dot Hill's own array products, so that Dot Hill customers, the smaller storage OEMs generally, can build more sophisticated storage arrays that enable them to compete with the seven big players: EMC; Dell; HDS: HP: IBM; NetApp; and Sun.

Xiotech's chief strategy officer, Jim McDonald, confirmed this in an email today, saying: "By integrating CorteX in to the iSN (the Cloverleaf software) we have the ability to manage a virtualised SAN in the same way that we would manage individual ISE. We are working away on extending the reach of CorteX by implementing it in a number of areas and are pretty excited about the early results. Just having the same API to create a volume on storage and servers, for example, massively reduces provisioning effort"

There is the prospect here of Xiotech actually supplying the upper-level storage controller software.

It's our assessment that the big players are unlikely to use Dot Hill's iSN as they already have clever controller software, lots of legacy customers to keep happy, and are moving to X86 controller hardware platforms too.

The bet by both Dot Hill and Xiotech is that storage array suppliers outside the top seven can and will use an iSN/ISE combo to win lots of business by providing equivalent functionality, performance and reliability at lower prices. It's all upside for Xiotech. CorteX interfaces are easy to write, witness the iPhone demo, and extra sales are great, with continuing ISE sales into customers once the first order is placed.

Dot Hill has a possibly steeper hill to climb as iSN is new technology but it does have its existing OEM Channel, soon to be open to Xiotech, we think, to use.

If Xiotech or another Dot Hill iSN partner can bring in sexy flash enclosures with the glamour that very high IOPS performance brings, plus enough reliability and endurance to satisfy the cynics, and do this faster than the top seven suppliers, then Dot Hill's strategy could succeed. Its OEMs would bring out new array products, suiting virtualised servers very well indeed, rather than me-too array products - and that would be interesting and potentially very profitable for Dot Hill. ®

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