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Dell shakes up storage array game with 3PAR buy

Complements EqualLogic

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Dell is changing the enterprise storage array supplier landscape by buying 3PAR for $1.15bn, adding an enterprise block storage array to its storage product roster and complementing the iSCSI EqualLogic storage arrays it bought in 2007.

Dell paid $1.4bn for EqualLogic, and it's turned out to be an astute and successful purchase. 3PAR makes InServe arrays that have become a hallmark for ease of use and manageability. The company is a start-up that has focused almost exclusively on virtualised, clustered high-end Fibre Channel enterprise class storage, the T-Class, and using ASIC-based hardware to provide terrific performance and scalability. It was also very fast to market with technologies such as thin provisioning, thin volumes, automated data movement and high-performance storage of VMware virtual desktop images.

3PAR has established its products as viable alternatives to DS8000 arrays from IBM, Hitachi Data Systems USP and EMC's Symmetrix. Some would argue that 3PAR's products are not in the actual top flight of enterprise arrays, but none would deny the company's technical virtuosity and its ability to spot a storage trend, seize it and get product features to market in advance of competing suppliers.

In April last year 3PAR introduced an entry-level F-Class product which competes with CLARiiON and similar modular arrays such as HP's EVA line.

The company has been successful in selling into the cloud / managed service provider market and this can be expected to continue under Dell's ownership.

It has often been remarked that Dell has not taken EMC's Symmetrix arrays as well as the CLARiiON mid-range arrays because of EMC reluctance to countenance such a deal and Dell's supposed small-medium business market core. It is now clear that Dell, in this coming era of converged IT stacks, absolutely has enterprise ambitions and will rapidly become a formidable competitor to EMC, HDS, HP (which OEMs the USP arrays) and IBM.

It is thought that, like EqualLogic, the 3PAR operation will be integrated into Dell's management structure but operated as a semi-independent unit, that system having served well with EqualLogic. The F-Class will be positioned to not compete with Dell's resold CLARiiON-based product, which is expected to transition to the converged CLARiiON/Celerra product in a few months time, offering unified block and file storage access.

Dell is evolving before our eyes, with last month's Ocarina acquisition being followed very quickly by this 3PAR buy. The addition of Dell's market coverage to 3PAR can be expected to boost sales. David Scott, 3PAR's soon-to-be-richer CEO, said: "With Dell we combine a powerful, virtualised storage platform with an outstanding distribution network to deliver this value to an even broader set of customers.”

We may now ask if Dell is set on buying an Ethernet switch supplier so it has all the hardware pieces needed for a converged IT stack. Brocade has been said to be for sale but its OEM-based business may rule it out. Possible candidates are Arista, Blade Network Technologies and perhaps Juniper.

The acquisition cost of $1.15bn is net of 3PAR's cash and is valued at $18 per 3PAR share. It is expected to close before the end of the year. This is a substantial acquisition by Dell and makes it an even stronger enterprise IT systems supplier. ®

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