EMC’s re-intermediation strategy

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 18 November, 2014

EMC – and other legacy array vendors – are trying to become an intermediary between enterprises and the cloud. Are cloud-washed arrays a viable strategy?

EMC’s Joe Tucci is working to ensure that EMC can survive in a cloud world even if he doesn’t manage to sell the company before he retires. The acquisitions of TwinStrata, CloudScaling, Maginatics and Spanning are proof.

The acquisitions are recent and success remains to be seen. But there’s a larger question about the strategy: can an enterprise re-intermediation strategy be successful?

Intermediation works when transactors work at very different time frames, scales or knowledge levels. Costco, for example, buys by the truckload and sells by the box. Insurance brokers help you navigate complex financial products.

The Internet is the Great Disintermediator. Thousands of smaller businesses have been destroyed by Internet-based large business – think book and video stores – and more are endangered, such as newspapers.

Today, the cloud is likewise disintermediating the business of legacy storage providers. Getting some cloud mojo to buff aging architectures is the goal.

Will it blend?
The acquired vendors have shown that there is a market for cloud-enhanced local storage. The problem is that they haven’t shown it with high-cost legacy vendors.

TwinStrata, for instance, offered a commodity server box with their software for local storage of cloud data. A sensible low-cost solution for the mid-market.

But will enterprise customers want to load up their current storage silos with cloud extensions? And if they do, for how long?

The StorageMojo take
EMC’s acquisitions – and other “cloudifying” efforts – are defensive tactical moves, not long-range strategies. Helping customers use much lower-cost and more flexible cloud storage sold by others is like a bookstore searching Amazon for you.

Vendors will eke out marginal sales and maintenance extensions, but hollowing out the embedded storage component in arrays is asking switch vendors to take over the job of shuttling data off to the cloud. There are better ways to manage metadata than inside storage arrays.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.


AWS re:Invent this week

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 11 November, 2014

StorageMojo’s legion of analysts are saddling up for the ride to Las Vegas for AWS re:Invent. This is a first time for this event and trust it will be excellent.

If you’re there feel free to say hi!

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Please comment on anything you’d like to see The StorageMojo take on.


Pure vs EMC: who’s winning?

by Robin Harris on Tuesday, 11 November, 2014

Forbes contributor and analyst Peter Cohan writes on seemingly conflicting stories coming from Pure and EMC. Let’s unpack the dueling narratives.
Pure logo
Does Pure win 70% vs EMC or does EMC win 95% vs Pure?
The metrics:

Both parties seem to agree that they meet up very often in competitive bidding situations. EMC claims that it beats Pure 95% of the time they vie for “pure flash” bids while Pure says it wins the vast majority of these business battles.
Pure claims that it’s growing at 400% a year and much of that comes from winning 70% of its competitive battles. . . .

The qualifier from Scott Dietzen, Pure CEO:

We beat EMC 70% of the time when we get potential customers to test our product in competition. . . .

EMC spokesman Dave Farmer says:

The fact is, EMC XtremIO wins over Pure 95% of the time in head-to-head all-flash array sales.

Whose numbers can you trust?
Pure’s statement relies on bake-off numbers, where the prospect tests both the products. The hassle involved in getting hardware into a shop for testing means that Pure has a clear record of each competitive test.

EMC’s number is much softer. How does EMC corporate know that they are competing with Pure in a sale? The EMC sales rep says they are.

Sales reps have no incentive to downplay the competitive environment. Indeed, they have a positive incentive to exaggerate the competition since they may need a competitive allowance to close a deal.

The StorageMojo take
Given the apples-to-oranges comparison, both companies can be correct. Pure’s problem is that it takes working capital to put hardware on a customer site and personnel to support the testing.

The good news for Pure is that once they win a sale they have a customer champion in that account. Follow on sales should be easier.

EMC benefits from their large customer footprint. Selling XtremIO is the easy part: their problem is preserving VMAX sales in the face of obviously superior price/performance of flash arrays, even their own.

That’s why the DSSD buy – rumored to cost as much as $1 billion if all milestones are met – is so important. They want to preserve their VMAX software investment while making VMAX performance competitive with flash arrays.

But if customers discover that much of the VMAX software stack is less important in a cloud world even DSSD will be in vain. Which motivates EMC’s effort to also build a comprehensive set of cloud on-ramps – such as TwinStrata – vital.

That is a subject for another post.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Winning isn’t everything, it’s how you define winning that counts.


Friday hike blogging: clouds and sun

by Robin Harris on Friday, 7 November, 2014

I’ve been hiking regularly, but not posting Fridays due to some schedule conflicts. Last Saturday I took one of my favorite loops, but started from Soldiers Pass rather than Mormon Canyon, and headed counterclockwise.

The weather was unsettled, with dark clouds to the north and east and broken clouds to the west. As it was late in the day the brilliant sunlight on the red rocks made a striking contrast to the dark skies. As I climbed to Brins Mesa I stopped, looked south and caught this view:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The weather soon reverted to normal: cloudless skies and lots of sun. Cloudy days are precious in Arizona.


Mark Lewis on Formation’s enterprise play

by Robin Harris on Thursday, 6 November, 2014

Formation Data Systems announced a soft launch a few weeks ago with a $24M round – hefty for a software play – and one of the investors is Kumar Malavalli, the smart guy behind Brocade. StorageMojo spoke to FDS CEO Mark Lewis.

The what
Formation is focused on attacking the cost and expense of enterprise storage. Storage that today is absurdly expensive, difficult to manage and limits scalability. You’ve heard of this problem, no?

Create a single data virtualization layer and offer an order of magnitude cost improvement. Translation: 1/10th the cost of a VMAX.

Mark says their target market hasn’t moved to cloud because while the economics are good they also want a private environment. They believe they can beat the cost of AWS and Azure – by 20-30% – and give local control to IT.

The how
The short answer – from Mark – is that big enterprises pay about the same same as AWS for commodity hardware. The win is that the enterprise can optimize the underlying infrastructure for their specific applications where AWS and Google can’t.

They run on top of commodity hardware with a “ubiquitous data virtualization layer” with data connectors that look like block, NFS, HDFS, S3 or whatever the app needs.

Overcoming the enterprise fear of the new and untried won’t be easy. FDS is going with a direct sales, service and support model. They will offer a tin-wrapped software as well as software + service only.

Another plus: Mark says that 90% of their stack is open source. That cuts development costs while reducing technical risk for FDS and customers.

The StorageMojo take
“Data virtualization layer” may sound like marketing blah-blah, but it is what web scale infrastructures already do. Their layered architectures present files – in object form – without the app servers knowing about anything behind the object.

Mark stressed to StorageMojo that this is not a “rip & replace” strategy, which is not what CRN’s Joseph Kovar reported. Messaging glitch or re-think? IT never rips out something that is working, so new apps and greenfield data centers are the opportunity.

Can the FDS business model work? Absolutely. Enterprises aren’t looking to roll their own, so the services piece is critical. They will also take comfort in the high percentage of open source that allows FDS to focus on integration and automating system management.

Bottom line: FDS can deliver real value to CFOs who see web scale advantage, but don’t know how to incorporate it into their business systems. This is much smarter than EMC’s “buy the on-ramps and they will come” strategy.

In a world of IoT, social networks and big data, web scale is the new enterprise scale. And just as Google and Amazon before them, enterprises must implement a new architecture to support these new applications.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.


Adesto resistance RAM shipping now

by Robin Harris on Monday, 3 November, 2014

Adesto Technologies is a company you probably haven’t heard of. I’m here to fix that, thanks to a discussion I had today with their CEO, semiconductor veteran Narbeh Derhacobian.

Adesto is announcing a whiz-bang new product next week, but you need to know about this company now.

Their focus is low-power memory solutions – i.e. components designed to solve specific customer problems – for mobile and IoT applications. They’ve shipped over 1 million units of their Conductive Bridging RAM (CBRAM), a form of resistance RAM (ReRAM or RRAM).

Regular readers know StorageMojo has been a fan of ReRAM for years. And I hadn’t heard of Adesto either.

How low can they go?
According to Narbeh, Adesto’s killer app is storage for the Internet of Things. The “Things” need a sensor, processor, power, radio and – ta-da! – local storage.

Since nobody is going to change a several billion batteries a year, the ideal IoT device harvests power from the environment. Which makes low power everything critical.

While NAND flash is cheap, it is also thirsty, requiring ≈20v for writes and, typically, 3.3 volts. Narbeh says that Adesto’s CBRAM is 10-100 times more energy efficient than NAND today. Current CBRAM products run at 1.5V.

Which leaves the future. As a science experiment for a DARPA project, Adesto demonstrated CBRAM could work down to 0.6V.

Currently 2 foundries are producing CBRAM and Adesto is looking to bring on a third.

Their Technology page offers a concise statement:

Adesto’s CBRAM Technology is the lowest power, lowest cost non-volatile memory for mainstream and embedded applications.

The non-volatile memory is created by applying patented metallization and dielectric stack layers between CMOS interconnect layers. The size of the memory cell is determined by the underlying access transistor (whether using a Logic or DRAM process). The result is a superior NVM with long-term CMOS scalability. CBRAM™ memory was originally developed at Arizona State University and is also known as Programmable Metallization Cell (PMC).

The StorageMojo take
CBRAM isn’t perfect: device capacities are tiny; it isn’t a drop-in replacement for NAND; and volumes aren’t ready for popular consumer devices. But those are all manageable problems.

It is in the nature of storage conservatism that we use what we’ve got until we can’t. Flash grew up filling a mobile niche that disks couldn’t until, finally, it became cheaper than DRAM.

Now CBRAM is growing up in a niche that flash can’t handle, IoT. Given IoT’s promised volumes – billions – learning curves will drive CBRAM prices down and perhaps making them capacity and price competitive with flash for consumer and enterprise applications.

However Adesto goes, it’s good to see a ReRAM product shipping in volume and a business model that leads to long-term success. How this will affect adjacent storage markets remains to be seen, but we can be sure that energy efficiency will remain important for IoT, mobile and web-scale infrastructure.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.


Friday hike blogging: Sterling Pass trail

October 24, 2014

After the Slide Rock fire all the trails in Oak Creek Canyon were closed for about 4 months. They reopened the trails October 1, so I’ve been hiking some of them to see what the fuss was about. The Sterling Pass to Vultee Arch hike is about about 1200 steep feet up, 800 steep feet […]

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Shadow IT industry pt. III: what’s next?

October 24, 2014

What’s next for the shadow IT industry? It should be obvious: after blowing up the storage and server business models, what’s left? Networking Amazon has been working on their own networking software and hardware for several years. While networks aren’t a large part of their cost structure – servers are – it was rapidly growing […]

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Friday hike blogging: West fork, new and improved!

October 17, 2014

Finding that the recent fire and monsoon rains had altered the west fork of Oak Creek made me want to go back further up the creek. Without a paddle. So last Sunday I did. That’s Steve in the corner. Manou is in the crowd up ahead. Spectacular! In case you couldn’t tell. . . .

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Shadow IT pt. 2

October 17, 2014

The first post on shadow IT looked at R&D spend. Now we look at CapEx spend – specifically PP&E – property, plant and equipment. That’s where new datacenters, servers, storage and networks go. Big Spend The FY13 PP&E spend in billions from major players: While R&D expense is a proxy for innovation velocity, PP&E is […]

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The shadow IT industry

October 14, 2014

The power of the big IaaS players – Amazon, Google, Facebook, Azure (AGFA) – constitutes a shadow IT industry. It is a shadow because its operations are outside the transparency we take for granted with legacy IT vendors like IBM, HP, Cisco and Oracle. AGFA announces new services, but the tech behind the services is […]

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Scale and intelligence: lessons from warehouse-scale computing

October 13, 2014

Why is enterprise infrastructure so costly and inflexible while warehouse-scale computing is cost-effective and flexible? Is it: a) Enterprise infrastructure is too capital intensive? b) Warehouse-scale people are smarter? c) High-scale systems can’t be reduced to enterprise-scale cost effectively? Lucky for you, this is an open-blog exam. Read on. People, machines and scale Greg Ferro […]

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Symantec to split – finally!

October 8, 2014

Multiple outlets are reporting that Symantec (SYMC), which bought storage software leader Veritas for $10.6 billion in 2005, is soon to break itself up into a security company and a storage software company. SYMC segments their business into User Productivity & Protection, Information Security, and Information Management. The Information Management segment includes backup and recovery, […]

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Friday hike blogging: the west fork of Oak Creek

October 5, 2014

The most popular local trail is the west fork of Oak Creek. It’s relatively flat and, thanks to the high canyon walls and riparian foliage, usually shady – a big plus in the summer months. The trail has been closed for the last 4 months due to the 21,000 acre Slide Rock fire. The Forest […]

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Reconstruction almost complete

October 4, 2014

Like reconstructing Leeloo from the Fifth Element, with no Milla Jovovich. Or a replacement drive in a RAID set. This has been a busy week, but not with research and blogging. Busy fixing the blog instead. WordPress 4.0 broke the StorageMojo theme. The themesters came out with an update with 4.0 support, but migrating to […]

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