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Storage upstarts, you disappoint me. Are you building SHELFWARE?

Looking for the exit when it should be all about the tech

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Storagebod Sitting on the exhibition floor at Powering the Cloud, you sometimes wonder how many of these companies will be still here next year: the sheer volume of flash startups is quite frightening – I can see five of them just from where I am sitting.

There's Pure, Tintri, Nimble, Fusion-IO, Violin – but an ever-expanding number are now joining the flash frenzy. And really there is little to choose between them. They're all trying to do the same thing, and all trying to be the next big thing: the next NetApp. But do any of them stand any chance of doing this?

They’ll all claim technical superiority over each other, but for most this is a marketing war driven by a desire to exit. Technically the differentiation between them is slight, scratch many of them and you will find a relatively standard dual-head array running Linux with some kind of fork of ZFS. Tuned for flash? Well, NetApp has spent years trying to tune WAFL for flash and has pretty much given up. Hence the purchase of Engenio and the new Flashray products.

This is not to say that new startups are bringing nothing new to the party but we have a multitude of products – from pure flash plays to hybrid flash to flash in the server – lots of product overlap and little differentiation. Choice is good though.

So what does this mean to the end-user delegates walking the floor? Well, there has to be a certain amount of wariness about the whole thing. With which of these firms do you spend your money, in which of them do you make a strategic investment and which of them is going to be around next year?

The biggest stands here are those of Oracle, HP, Dell and NetApp. All companies who might be in the market for such an acquisition. I guess the question in the back of everyone’s mind is which company they might acquire, if any. And will acquisition even be good for the customers of the acquired company? How many products have we seen acquired and pushed into dusty corners.

End-users are bad enough when it comes to shelfware but the big technology companies are even worse, they acquire whole companies and turn them into shelfware.

So we need to be looking at more standards and ways of deploying storage in ways that it becomes more standardised and removes the risk from taking risks.

And therein lies the rub for many startups: how do you disrupt without disrupting? How do you lock in without actually locking in? Perhaps some help on that question might come from an unusual place but more another time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that many of them don’t really care. It’s all about the exit – some might make it to IPO but even then most will want to be acquired. I’m not seeing a huge amount of evidence of a desire to build a sustainable and stable business. Shelfware it is, then. ®

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