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VMworld Nexenta, the ZFS-based storage software company, is successfully avoiding becoming a storage hardware supplier - although that could make life easier. But it believes hardware storage companies are doomed in the long run.

The future is open storage software running in servers that abstracts and commoditises storage hardware. The future is apparently not storage hardware-based suppliers; especially not startups like Pure Storage, who have "the wrong model" according to Nexenta sales VP Jonathan Ash.

Ash said at a briefing in VMWorld Barcelona that Nexenta had just closed its third quarter, "our best quarter ever," and added many new customers, like the CIA and the FBI. The company is sharing a stand with STEC, with Ash saying: "80 per cent of our customers use SSDs and STEC has great ZeusIOPS SSDS."

He added that Nexenta works with Intel and OCZ too in the SSD area, emphasising that Nexenta is hardware-independent.

Nexenta's partners building all-SSD appliances can do 1.1 and 1.2 million IOPS, Ash said. "We can outdo Pure; we're both faster and cheaper. … Commodity hardware plus Nexenta software beats Pure."

He said Nexenta hadn't raised a ton of money, like Pure and other storage hardware startups, although it did raise $21 million a while ago: "because we're very capital-efficient."

Could Nexenta be a hardware supplier?

"Yes, it would make it much easier," says Ash, as the company has to have a ton of different suppliers' hardware in its labs for certification. "[But] If we did we'd be the same as Pure and I don't see any benefit in that … We believe the ability to move from one hardware vendor to another is good; it's our differentiator."

An all-flash storage hardware vendor like Pure could well say that it gets better performance, reliability and longevity from its flash than software suppliers using third-party SSDs can. Ash would simply reply that partner kit using Nexenta software is faster and cheaper than Pure so …?

Anyway, "Pure is trying to make another EMC. It's the wrong model."

Nexenta, it says, needs hardware suppliers as resellers and OEMs; it just doesn't want to be one. Biz dev veep Jim Fitzgerald said that Nexenta goes to the market with SGI and Dell for example.

Ash chimed in: "We've just done a 3PB deal with Dell in Japan."

The relationship with Dell, both men claimed, is getting stronger - even as Dell extends its NAS head strategy to add NAS access to its Compellent arrays.

Fitzgerald told reporters that Nexenta is working with Cisco on a fully integrated stack with VMware. In this, Nexenta software runs as a VM, a virtual storage appliance on a UCS blade, using its SSDs, and writes back to a C Series server with 100TB of disk. There is a VMware View deployment tool involved as well, cutting 150 View steps down to a few clicks.

What's clear is that Nexenta is growing fast on the basis of its partners being able to build systems using its software with commodity hardware that can be faster and cheaper than offerings from EMC, NetApp, Pure and Whiptail to name just a few. Other customers perceive that as risky and are very happy buying the integrated systems.

Like DataCore, Nexenta is a surviving, prospering and growing software supplier with - it would say - a best of breed product, and you can't knock success.

Whether it's right to say storage hardware companies will fall away is another matter. ®

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