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EMC's all-flash benediction: Turbulence ahead

Who's ready, who's going to have to buy in?

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Early stage start-ups

  • An early-stage start-up called Pure Storage was introduced earlier this month. The company is punting an all-flash array technology concept to hold enterprise primary data with a bulk disk store behind it. Little in detail is known about its technology architecture and product is likely nine to 18 months away.
  • SolidFire is another very early stage start-up, based in Atlanta, with development taking place in Boulder, Colorado. It gained $11m in an A-round of funding in February and its pitch is that primary data should be stored in solid state storage with an array controller designed from the ground up for flash and not disk. Its target market is a cloud storage service supplier.
  • In blogs posted on the company's website the point is made that disk-based SAN array storage controllers can manage thousands to tens of thousands of IOPS whereas SSDs can deliver hundreds of thousands to millions of IOPS. Disk-centric controllers can't keep up and bottleneck systems.

    A flash array controller needs: "An architecture built from the ground up around SSD technology that sizes cache, bandwidth, and processing power to match the IOPS that SSDs provide while extending their endurance. It requires an architecture designed to take advantage of SSDs unique properties in a way that makes a scalable all-SSD storage solution cost-effective today."

    What kinds of controllers does it think TMS, Violin Memory and other shared SSD storage suppliers have been building?

    SolidFire talks a good talk and we'll have to see how well it walks the product walk, how well it lets "cloud providers guarantee sustained performance to thousands of servers from a single storage system", when its technology becomes visible, possibly towards the end of the year.

    El Reg imagines that EMC has that sort of vision in mind with its all-flash VMAX. Will the tide of EMC's all-flash array vision float SolidFire's boat or smash it against the rocks? Or will it be acquired?

What will established suppliers do?

Let's cast our eye over the established storage array players and ask what they will do in the face of the primary data, all-flash array tide washing their way.

  • BlueArc does not have an all-flash offering yet is focused on high-performance NAS boxes with its hardware acceleration technology. It will find its hard-won position towards the top of the NAS performance tree contemptuously over-taken by all flash-array suppliers – like VNX flash – and will have to develop or acquire its own technology – like UNAS NAS – not least to preserve its HDS reselling deal. El Reg plumps for an acquisition as time could be short.
  • Dell does not have its own technology and is quite willing to acquire storage technology these days. We vote for Dell acquiring the technology and acquiring it with relish and speed as it sees another way to take storage share from its competitors.
  • Fujitsu is building up its Eternus disk array line and now will see the primary data storage needs of its customers going to other suppliers unless it can provide all-flash arrays that do the job. If it sees enough time to do then it will probably have the acquired Fujitsu Siemens Computer storage people do the job. If it doesn't, then buying in technology is the only alternative.
  • HDS does not have its own in-house flash array technology and faces losing high-performance array business to EMC, TMS and the startups unless it gets it. Not known for its fast-reaction to new market developments but noted for its focused acquisitions – Archivas – and reselling deals (BlueArc), HDS could look to a reselling deal as its first response and might do a deal with an established player like TMS or Kaminario.
  • HP, El Reg can imagine, may be having some trouble with the idea of another storage technology it has to get to grips with before it has even fully integrated what it already has. Buy baby, buy: it's the short cut to getting a product line and technology you can integrate. We think a promising late-to-middle stage start-up with great technology will likely be in HP's sights, one with product that HP's channel can sell straight away. Is that the sound of violins we can hear?
  • IBM once again finds its famous research capabilities have missed the boat, and the company will have to dip into its wallet and develop its own technology, producing say an all-flash V7000, an all-flash SVC, or pulling a rabbit out of its DS hat with an all-flash DS8000. Alternatively it could buy its way in to the technology, a much faster option that it has employed before. That's what we think it will do, and like HP go for a mid-to-late stage start-up with product that Big Blue can pump through its channels – or an established niche player like Kaminario or TMS.
  • Now to everyone's favourite storage puzzler, NetApp and its likely choices. We think that NetApp could be one of the traditional suppliers Solid Fire has in mind, a classic disk array storage controller company with a singular focus on disk drive I/O problems. The company could surprise us with its own technology development, unlikely we think. But perhaps an all-flash array technology is buried in its Engenio acquisition. LSI is no slouch in anticipating technology developments and is involved with Seagate's SSD initiatives. El Reg thinks an Engenio all-flash technology could emerge and, if it doesn't, then NetApp will buy an established player or mature-ish start-up.
  • Oracle, with its flash-experienced Sun engineers, could readily build Exadata-type all-flash systems. We don't foresee an acquisition but, hedging bets, don't rule one out.

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