For some reason I volunteered to write something about vendors after the Wikibon con call today. That follows.

Vendors: responding to EMC’s cluster storage initiative

EMC’s support of cluster storage for archiving and backup will legitimize the technology. Vendors with competitive products have a window of opportunity to position themselves as a superior alternative. Make no mistake: EMC plans to own this market and will commit significant resources to the effort.
EMC’s market entry will be hobbled by several problems that competitors can exploit.

  • Immature software: limitations, bugs and the eval cycle that implies
  • Maintaining a bright line positioning between Hulk/Maui and Symms
  • 60% gross margin requirement

EMC will be NDA’ing strategic customers starting mid-January to build major sales to reference at announcement. Smart customers will be calling other vendors, including the smaller, innovative ones, for perspective. Luck favors the prepared.

IBM, Hitachi, HP, NetApp IBM Global Services should be open to reselling/integrating suitable substitutes. There are efforts within IBM’s storage group to create a scalable, commodity storage infrastructure, but the chasm between IBM’s brilliant technologists and IBM marketing makes success problematic.

Hitachi doesn’t seem to be doing anything in this area. They will be looking at an acquisition and will take their time.

HP’s Polyserve acquisition may convince them that they have the cluster thing under control, but Polyserve isn’t competitive with EMC’s initiative. HP has a deep well of technology expertise from the DEC cluster products. Expect a cluster acquisition in 2008.

NetApp is vulnerable. ONTAP GX has missed the cluster market and their controller-based architecture has all the cost disadvantages of traditional arrays without the flexibility of clustering. Putting ONTAP 7G on commodity hardware bricks with software “mortar” – as Google does with GFS – would preserve their significant advantages with WAFL at a lower $/GB.

New competitors
Now is the time to get serious about what your product really does and what its appeal is to customers. Focus is critical to building a defensible position that can be used to win F500 business in areas where EMC is less competitive. There is also an opportunity to shift the terms of the customer debate. This market is still fluid and customers don’t have a clear mental map of the terrain. Smart, focused marketing can take advantage of that.

Action Item:
Small/new vendors: if you want to be acquired, now is the time to be shopping yourself to the big guys. If you want to build a big business, get your marketing focused on verticals and business justification.

Big vendors: start shopping now. EMC wants your scalp so you’ll want to be well-armed.

All: there is a lot more to know about Hulk/Maui. A focused competitive analysis effort will pay dividends.

Update: The audio is available here. If you are wondering if I mentioned your company, I probably didn’t.

Comments welcome, of course.