EMC has been gaining marketshare over the last several years. The world’s largest data storage company is getting larger.


IBM and the 7 dwarves
Back when mainframes ruled the earth, IBM faced a hardy band of competitors that had their own processor architectures and operating systems. Originally known as the 7 dwarves – Burroughs, UNIVAC, Control Data, NCR, GE, RCA and Honeywell – these companies rode the computing boom with varying success until the early 70s. Then the mainframe business matured and started consolidating.

IBM now has a nice multi-billion dollar annuity mainframe business.

The same, only different
EMC’s position is analogous to IBM’s in the 70s: EMC has the most successful scale-up OLTP arrays; offers better support; and keeps adding useful features.

Because of its size and growing share, EMC’s Symmetrix VMAX business will out-invest their competitors, increasing their functional lead in features and performance. As once-reasonable competitors like HP’s EVA fall by the wayside there will fewer reasons to choose anything else for high-capacity OLTP.

The cloud onslaught
With the coming tidal wave of cloud-based storage options it is clear that the industry cannot support all the big iron array companies we currently have. There are several implications to EMC’s dominance in the traditional storage business.

  • Large storage arrays for OLTP are no longer a major pain points with customers. They have bigger problems now with massive amounts of file data, streaming data and scale of public and private cloud storage.
  • Customers are no longer looking solely to big iron arrays for high performance. DRAM and flash arrays are taking over the nose-bleed end of the storage performance envelope, leaving less latency-critical applications for traditional storage.
  • As competition decreases, expect EMC to treat its flagship arrays as cash cows as it invests in newer technologies and companies.

What changed?
Expect to see a several of the dwarves leave the big iron storage array business. Let’s look at each of the competitors in turn.

Oracle/Sun. Sun’s storage business is the obvious weak sister among major vendors, as it has been for over 20 years. Oracle is having some success with its database optimized storage offerings, where it’s focus is on IBM.

They’ve got a tin-wrapped software strategy. They aren’t seeking to challenge EMC and will remain a niche player closely aligned with the Oracle’s database business.

Hitachi Data Systems saw the writing on the wall several years ago with their acquisition of Archivas. They’ve been busy turning it into a credible cloud storage alternative. With their global distribution, quality reputation and OEM relationships, they have a better than even chance of making the transition to the brave new world of storage.

Dell is not in the big iron storage array business today but they’ve been working to build a significant business. Unfortunately their operations focused culture – and years of dependence on EMC – leaves them poorly prepared to enter the mainstream enterprise storage business.

Dell is leveraging their low-cost supply chain to build a scale-out storage business. They’ll succeed with cloud service providers, but they’re unlikely to win in the enterprise. Providing reliable and low-cost hardware only gets you so far in the enterprise: support and a knowledgeable sales force mean even more.

NetApp has done a good job putting financial and marketing daylight between themselves and the other dwarves. But their one-size-fits-all strategy is bumping up against the reality that it doesn’t.

Buying Bycast was a smart move, but like the Spinnaker acquisition they’ve been slow to capitalize on the little-known scale-out market leader. They’ll hang in there, but unless they adopt a more flexible strategy and product mix, their days of heady growth are behind them.

They need to reinvigorate the company with a major cultural shift that enables them to market and sell multiple product lines, something some longtime senior execs – and a too-comfortable sales force – are dead set against. They don’t need to go as far afield as EMC has, but with their global sales and support they are well positioned to take a leaf from EMC’s technology publishing model.

Tomorrow: HP, IBM, the 7th dwarf and the StorageMojo take.

Update: As alert reader John Verity noted in the comments, my memory unit conflated the 7 dwarves with the PCM vendors – most famously Amdahl – in the first version of this post. Luckily correcting this makes the argument stronger. In the interest of transparency I struck out the wrong parts, but if it makes it unreadable I may just pull it. If I do, I’ll update this note. Update 2: I pulled the wrong sections in the interest of readability. Also made a couple of edits for clarity. Sorry!