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EMC's Project Nile: Elastic Cloud Storage isn't stretchy enough to fit me

Something's going to happen here - but WHAT!?

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Storagebod EMC have finally turned Project Nile into a product and given it the wonderful name of “Elastic Cloud Storage”; there is much to like about it. But before I tell you about those, I’ll point out one thing.

For a product called “Elastic Cloud Storage” it’s not very elastic. At least, not when compared to current public cloud offerings – unless there is a very complicated finance model behind it, and even then it might not be that stretchy.

One of the things that people really like about public cloud storage is that they pay for what they use: if their consumption goes down then their costs go down.

Now EMC can probably come up with a monthly charge based on how much you are using; they certainly can do capacity on demand. And they might be able to do something with leasing to allow downscaling as well, at a financial level. But what they can’t easily do is take storage away on demand. So that 5 petabytes will be on-premise and using space; it will also need maintaining even if it spins down to save power.

Currently EMC are claiming ECS offers between 9 - 28 per cent lower total cost of ownership over public cloud. Let's be honest: it needs to be. And that's today. Google and Amazon are fighting a price war, so can EMC play in that space and react quickly enough?

ECS isn't as elastic as public cloud and this might become very important … unless EMC are relying on the fact that storage demands never seem to go away.

Commodity

I can’t remember when I started writing about commodity storage and the convergence between storage and servers, be it roll-your-own or when vendors were going to start doing something very similar. ZFS really sparked a movement who looked at storage and thought “why do we need big vendors like EMC, NetApp, HDS and HP,” for example.

Yet there was always the thorny issue of support. For many of us, it was a bridge too far. In fact, it actually started to look more expensive than buying a supported product - and we quite liked sleeping at night.

But there were some interesting chassis out there that really started to catch our eyes and even our traditional server vendors were shipping interesting boxes (pdf). It was awfully tempting.

And so I kept nagging the traditional vendors …

Many didn’t want to play or were caught up in their traditional business. Some didn’t realise that this was something that they could do and some still don’t.

Acquisition

The one company who had the most to lose from a movement to commodity storage was EMC; really, this could be very bad news for them. There’s enough “hate” in the market for a commodity movement to get some real traction. So they bought a company that could allow commoditisation of storage at scale. I think at least some of us thought that would be the end of that. Or that it would disappear down a rabbit hole to resurface as an overpriced product.

And the initial indications were that it wasn’t going to disappear but it was going to be stupidly expensive.

Also, getting EMC to talk sensibly about Scale-IO was a real struggle; yet the indication is that it was a good but expensive product.

Today

So what EMC have announced at EMC World is sort of surprising, in that it looks like they may well be willing to rip the guts out of their own market. We can argue about the pricing and the TCO model but it looks a good start; street prices and list prices have a very loose relationship. The four year TCO they are quoting needs to drop by a bit to be really interesting.

As for the packaging and the option to deploy on your own hardware ... although this is going to be from a carefully controlled catalogue, I guess, it is a real change from EMC. But you will also notice that EMC have got into the server game. Is this a shot across the bows of the converged players?

Don’t just expect this to be a content dump either. Scale-IO can do serious I/O if you deploy SSDs.

Tomorrow

My biggest problem with Scale-IO is that it breaks EMC. I think that it breaks them in a good way, but it’s a completely different sales model. For large storage consumers, an Enterprise License Agreement with all you can eat and deploying onto your chosen commodity platform is going to be very attractive. Now, the ELA might be a big sum, but as a per-terabyte cost it might not be so big. After all, the more you use; the cheaper it gets.

Old EMC might struggle a bit with that. They’ll probably try to sell you a VMAX to sit behind your ViPR nodes.

Competitors?

RedHat have an opportunity now with Ceph; especially amongst those who hate EMC for being EMC. IBM could do something with GPFS. HP have a variety of products. There are certainly smaller competitors as well.

And then there’s VMware with VSAN, which I still don’t understand!

There’s an opportunity here for a number of people. They need to grasp it and compete. This isn’t going to go away any more. ®

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