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Easy rip'n'replace storage using cheap kit? Nooooo, wail vendors

Hardware sales peeps are in for a rough ride

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Does your storage sales rep have a haunted look yet? If they work for one of the traditional vendors, they should be concerned about their long-term prospects.

If I was working storage sales, I’d certainly be wondering about what my future holds. Of course, most salesmen look no further than the next quarter’s target, but perhaps it's time to worry them a bit.

Despite paying lip service to storage as software, very few of the traditional vendors (and surprisingly few startups, either) have really embraced this idea and taken it to its logical conclusion: that commodity hardware for building top-end, and currently high-margin, storage systems is on its way. Despite all the efforts of the vendors to hold this back, it's going to radically change their business.

Now I’m sure you’ve read many blogs predicting this, and you’ve even read vendor blogs telling you how they are going to embrace this; they say they'll change their market and their products to match this movement. And yet I am already seeing mealy-mouthed attempts to hold this back or slow it down.

Roadmaps are pushing commoditisation further off into the distance. Rather than a whole-hearted endorsement, I am hearing instead of hardware compatibility lists for software and limited support. Vendors are even holding back on releasing virtual editions because they are worried that customers might put them into production. Is the worry that they won’t work - or that they might work too well?

Products which could be used to commoditise an environment are being hamstrung by only running on certified equipment. And for very poor reasons, unless the reasoning is to protect hardware businesses. I can point to examples in every major vendor, from EMC to IBM to HDS to HP to NetApp to Oracle.

So what's going to change this? I suspect customer action is the most likely cause for change. Cheap and deep for starters - you’d be mad not to consider looking at a platform built from commodity hardware and running open-source software on it. Of course, vendors are going to throw up a certain amount of FUD, but, like Linux, momentum is beginning to grow - lots of little POCs are popping up.

And there are other things round the corner which may yet kick this movement further along. 64-bit ARM processors have been taped out; we’ll begin to see servers based on those over the next couple of years. Low-power 64-bit servers running Linux and one of a multitude of open-source storage implementations will become two-a-penny.

As we move to scale-out storage infrastructure, these will start to infiltrate larger data centres, and then they'll rapidly move into the appliance space.

In turn, this will create headaches not just for the traditional storage vendors but also for Intel. Chipzilla has had the storage market sewn-up for a few years, but I expect ARM-based commodity hardware to push Chipzilla hard in this space.

Yet with all the focus on flash-based storage arrays, hybrid flash arrays and the like, everyone is currently focusing on the high-margin hardware business. No vendor is really showing their hand in the cheap and deep space: they talk about Big Data, they talk about software-defined storage... but they all hug those hardware revenues.

No, many of us aren’t advertising engineering companies like Google and Facebook, but the economics are beginning to look very attractive to some of us. Data growth isn’t going away soon, and the current crop of suppliers have little strategy apart from continuing to gouge … while many of the startups want to carry on gouging while pretending to be different.

Things will change. ®

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