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What's the way ahead for Dell storage?

HP are weak, but the chance isn't being grabbed

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Blocks+Files Where has Dell's storage business model gone awry? Dell storage has exhibited declining sales for about two years despite Dell buying some of the hottest storage startups around, like EqualLogic and Compellent. Why is this?

When Dell buys companies it goes to great lengths to keep their employees and ensure their culture stays strong. Part of the way this is done is by ceding them a large degree of independence and local management. The acquired firm stays in its original location, operating largely the way it had operated before but with product development and financial things now co-ordinated with and approved by Dell.

This is fine but something inescapable happens. The start-ups stop being startups and become Dell divisions. A year or so after they have been acquired the founding management has largely gone, and maybe the start-up fire goes with them.

That's not the case with Ocarina and Exanet but then neither was setting the world on fire and Exanet had actually crashed. In both cases Dell got into a technology area relatively cheaply, and is now arguably paying the price with under-performing products.

But with EqualLogic and Compellent, Dell's two main storage divisions, we can argue that the start-up fires have been quenched. I'm not saying that product developments are not ongoing and, indeed, impressive, but that, relative to the competition they are not good enough. Dell storage is under-performing because not enough customers buy its products, preferring to buy competing products instead: Quod Erat Demonstrandum, unfortunately.

And this is against the background of a weakened HP storage line up; one with a paralysed mid-range due to perceived EVA end-of-life and no 3PAR replacement products, a lack of a good deduplicating disk backup system, and no filer products worth much at all. Despite this weak opposition, still Dell storage revenues have declined. NetApp and EMC have picked up the filer business, EMC the deduplicating disk backup system business, and EMC, a resurgent HDS, IBM and also NetApp have benefited more from HP's mid-range weakness than Dell; that's how it seems.

You can't argue with Dell's strategy of adding data reduction and file access across its block storage platforms; that plays nicely to the unified storage idea; but it doesn't seem enough. Dell is making strong moves with its integrated ActiveSystems, the ones bringing servers, storage and networking together. But that's an isolated strength and t's only just started.

So where does this leave us? If we wished to be brutal we could say:-

- Dell is nowhere in scale-out NAS
- Dell does not have a high-end array
- Dell does not have an all-flash array
- Compellent is not setting the world on fire anymore
- Dell does not have a scale-out SAN
- Ocarina data reduction isn't cutting it
- Dell object storage is making little progress
- Dell does not have a good basic filer
- Dell does not have a solid server flash cache product

We could go further and say the Ocarina data reduction, Exanet scale-out NAS, and Caringo object storage OEM arrangement are three deals that have yet to come good. Look at Quantum and Amplidata; that looks to be a much stronger object storage deal with immediate integration possibilities with StorNext and an entree into StorNext vertical markets. Dell's Caringo-based product is stuck out in a field all on its own. What's to be done about this?

One thing to consider would be to implement stronger control over the product development plans of the separate Dell storage product silos, make them co-operate more, and drive them harder. EMC pulls this off. HP is pulling it off, witness the way it has arrived with a bang in deduplicating backup with StoreOnce, successfully patched up the gaping mid-range hole with the latest StoreServ announcements, and revealed a stronger and more integrated object storage strategy than Dell. HP storage is back and Dell's task just got harder.

Dell has announced an enterprise supremo, Marius Haas and a software supremo, John Swainson. Now, we venture to suggest, it should announce an integrated server/storage/networking organisation with a central head throat for Haas to choke if it doesn't perform, and three sub-heads, one each for servers, storage and networking for the central head to choke in turn.

The thrust of this argument is that Dell's storage product silos have to brought together, the second-rate technologies in the line-up strengthened or replaced, and the missing technologies developed or bought in.

What do you think? How would you fix Dell storage? Have your say in the Reg's storage forum. ®

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