On September 4, 2013, EMC spared no expense with their “Speed to Lead” Megalaunch. A “megalaunch” event, is a term EMC uses for a consolidated product launch outside of its marquis EMC World conference. The event took the form of a 24-hour live broadcast from Milan, Italy, augmented with a tremendous amount of social media. The event included highly produced commercials from partners.
At the event, EMC announced several key new and updated products and services:
- Next generation VNX using the new EMC MCx (multi-core optimization) to increase performance;
- VNX-CA (Continuous Availability) solution that leverages the capabilities of EMC VPLEX;
- New EMC XtremSW Cache 2.0 server-flash caching software;
- General Availability (GA) ViPR Software-Defined Storage Platform; and
- Enhanced VSPEX converged infrastructure portfolio.
Removing the pomp and circumstance, and the master production values that contributed to this launch, Neuralytix believes that there are several key takeaways from this launch.
- Flash first – nobody disputes EMC’s leadership in the use of solid state media in its storage systems. What EMC has done with this launch is to change the economics for all its competitors. EMC’s flash first approach says to the market that the only way to achieve a balance between performance, data/storage efficiency and cost effectiveness is to ensure that flash is part of the solution. It has been very clear that a system with 5% of flash is on average the right amount of flash for most organizations. EMC has established this percentage based on their own extensive testing during 2012 and 2013 ((Neuralytix notes that EMC’s findings are actually consistent with previous observations made in the early 1990’s in which roughly 20% of the bytes within 20% of the files in an enterprise changes on a regular basis. The net result is roughly 4-5% of the bytes associated with an enterprise’s overall data changing on a regular basis, consistent with EMC’s most recent findings.));
- Some more progressive customers may want all-flash – here, the all-flash array is not new, as least not to the storage industry as a whole. But emerging companies including, but not limited to Pure Storage, Nimbus Data Systems, Skyera, Greenbytes, and Violin Memory have been pushing the idea that an all-flash array should be the storage architecture of the next generation data center. While EMC does not believe this to be the case, by bundling all-flash configurations, it is better able to compete against these small start-ups and potentially simply price out these firms;
- Multi-core is key to improving the value of a storage array – multi-core servers are not new. But the storage systems market has been very slow to adopt it. Several companies have tried, with limited success on leveraging the power of multi-core CPU’s. With the release of the VNX MCx, EMC has put a stake in the ground for all its competitors that clearly says that unless they overhaul their storage operating systems, the multi-core, multi-socketed, multi-threaded, and multi-tasking capabilities available with the MCx will exponentially improve the performance and value-adding capabilities of future EMC arrays;
- Channel flexibility is key – the success of the VSPEX converged infrastructure portfolio is a great testament to the normally highly conservative EMC. With its competitors offering either a single converged solution or a single converged reference architecture (as in the case of NetApp), EMC is also putting a stake in the ground that simply says, the new EMC is much more friendly to the channel, and that it acknowledges that the channel community needs to be able to deliver proven, but differentiated solutions to their customer base; and
- Software Defined Storage is not a localized concept – many of EMC’s competitors have been claiming themselves as software-defined storage (SDS). However, for most, the software definition is local to each storage system. Neuralytix rejects the notion that just because the storage controller runs on an industry standard server platform, with the storage operating system and data services being defined in software that this is sufficient to constitute SDS.
What is SDS?
While the storage industry has not been brave enough to come together and agree on a singular standardized definition of what SDS is, Neuralytix on the other hand asserts a very simple definition: SDS is a federated (software) platform in which the I/O requirements of any given application on any given server can be served by the underlying virtualized network of storage systems based on security and performance policies.
Why this definition? This definition is based on the assumption that the concepts behind software-define “xyz” must be applied data-center wide. Just like the software-defined data center (SDDC) is all encompassing, and software defined networking (SDN) is also all encompassing within an enterprise, the storage subsystems (the third leg of the converged infrastructure “stool”) must also be defined data-center wide.
That is why Neuralytix rejects any notion that does not include a network-wide distributed, yet federated platform across which any data can travel to any user or application given the proper compliance to corporate, IT and security policies.
So is ViPR SDS?
Neuralytix believes the ViPR platform should be emphatically defined as a true SDS. During this launch, most EMC customers were probably shocked to know that EMC is actually going to be able to purchase a generally available (GA) version of ViPR by the end of the 4Q2013 – one quarter ahead of schedule.
The Opportunities and Challenges
The overall opportunities EMC can expect resulting from this launch is quite evident – customers who need more speed; customers who want more bang per buck; customers who recognize they want to buy EMC, but at the same time want to continue with their preferred compute and networking suppliers; and customers who have finally recognized the performance and economics of a small amount of flash media.
These are the main opportunities.
The challenges will be significantly different.
In light of the recent uproar over the liberties taken by the US government, for the purpose of national security, ViPR may be a little harder sell today compared to when it was first announced. Some customers may be skeptical about investing and entrusting to ViPR (a first generation product) the management of all their storage capacity. A similar group of customers may also feel that it’s one thing to have a singular corporate standard for servers and networks, but when it comes to an IT departments’ crown jewels – its storage – having a vendor like EMC lauding over all its digital treasures may be a little too much.
To the latter customers, Neuralytix believes that their concerns are valid, but probably too harsh. To achieve a proper data center wide universal data platform (that would ultimately enable data to be virtualized away from servers and applications), the implementation of a fully orchestrated data management layer is paramount.
Large enterprises to look to technologies like ViPR to assist them in controlling budget related to infrastructure spending, and focus on repairing the identify around the I.T. department (see recent research entitled Your Issues are My Issues, Neuralytix, September 2013). Essentially, IT should remember what the I in I.T. standards for – Information, not infrastructure.
Neuralytix believes this launch has allowed EMC set the bar for its competitors to meet, a bar that is set at an aggressive height. With Dell in the midst of the privatization discussions; HP with its leadership changes; and NetApp’s lack of a federated software defined storage (SDS) solution, and a lack of a truly NetApp converged infrastructure solution; Neuralytix believes that IBM will be the dark horse in this race, with HDS following close.
Both IBM and HDS have the server and networking components that can deliver a truly converged solution to the customer. Both have new/er software to address archiving and search and discovery (both Big Data enabling technologies) as well as very strong contenders in their respective storage systems products (especially IBM’s FlashSystem 820 all flash array).
For now, as we enter the last calendar quarter of 2013, EMC has thrown the proverbial gauntlet down. The question is to wait and see, which competitor has the gumption, and marketing might to challenge EMC’s indisputable technology leadership in the storage industry, and all the adjacent technologies that storage affects.