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EMC says virtual arrays a sales tool, not a threat

Pretend arrays an on-ramp to tin purchases, not a revenue drain

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Virtual storage arrays may become more attractive to customers, but EMC believes the pace of data growth will mean many users still need physical appliances.

That’s the opinion of Chuck Hollis, EMC's Vice President and Global Marketing CTO, who told El Reg that users like virtual arrays, but aren’t using them for anything meaningful.

Virtual arrays do everything a physical array does, by drawing spare capacity in servers rather than relying on a dedicated storage appliance. NetApp recently made its virtual appliance more widely available, while HP’s LeftHand products can use virtual arrays. VMware’s vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA) is another player, and raised eyebrows at its mid-2011 launch by seemingly threatening to cannibalise parent company EMC’s low-end products.

Hollis said he doesn’t see any of these virtual competitors as a threat.

“We had a NAS simulator for VNX for a while and we have an Atmos virtual appliance,” he said at EMC Forum in Sydney this week. “People are using them to gain familiarity with technology, to learnhowthey work, how they operate, how they interact in their environment, what does the GUI look like. Kind of like a test drive if you will.”

Hollis said EMC has experienced “strong demand for those products,” but that sales are tiny. As a sales tool, however, virtual arrays work wonders.

“Typically someone will take Atmos as a virtual machine, play with it, and then buy a bunch of physical stuff,” he said.

The same buying pattern, he feels, is evident when users adopt virtual arrays.

“For VSA I might need to stand something up and need a shared array, but I don’t want to spend $20,000. People decide to put it in a VSA and get the functionality. When they’re ready for production they decide to go and find some tin.”

“That’s how it is today,” Hollis opined. “Over time the virtual storage appliances will get more and more capable and more and more attractive.”

One reason for the increased attraction will be familiarity with virtualisation, as user realise hardware isn’t the best way to deliver.

“Take apart any of our storage arrays and the parts look familiar. There’s an Intel chip, there’s memory … it’s the same stuff as a server. Well, I can virtualise workloads on servers and nobody gets hurt. Why can’t I virtualise the workloads on storage arrays?”

But Hollis also feels that storage arrays will survive because virtual competitors won’t scale.

“Every year you will see more capabilities in virtual storage appliances, but at the same time VMware has these very robust APIs into the storage ecosystem. We saw this with Microsoft years ago: Microsoft got pretty aggressive putting storage functionality into Windows and it really didn’t change anything. Microsoft had good APIs and were very good at covering certain stuff, but as soon as you got to a certain size and complexity in came the dedicated tin.”

Hollis therefore declared he and EMC are “not opposed to these virtual arrays” and doesn’t feel it is losing sales, but does recognise “the [performance line is always going to move” and make virtual arrays more attractive and capable.

But data growth means physical appliances will remain essential, as only custom tin will be able to cope with greater demands for throughput and capacity.

“That’s the good news,” he concluded. ®

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