Here’s a good question: why are cloud vendors able to innovate so much faster than legacy vendors? AWS brags about the hundreds of new features and services they implement every year – and their accelerating pace.

But here’s a better question: why don’t enterprise buyers accept the same level of innovation from legacy vendors as they do from cloud vendors?

The legacy innovation trap
Legacy vendors have always faced innovation competition from startups. That’s why buying startups is a favored way to bring innovative ideas and people into large companies.

But the cloud is something different: they aren’t for sale. They’re replacing legacy vendors.

Several currents are sweeping up the unhappy legatees:

  • The market is shrinking. Demoralizing margin and R&D spend pressure.
  • Years of FUD marketing have trained customers to fear storage innovation.
  • Vendors have sizable bureaucracies devoted to slowing innovation vetting innovation. At Sun, for example, even the most minimal product change took 6 months to work through all the hoops. God help you if had an original idea!
  • The geo-scale of the cloud vendors and their uptime and data recovery records have overcome the fear of cloud innovation.
  • Much of the best talent wants to work at cloud vendors, not IT companies.
  • And, of course, the cloud folks have total control over their infrastructures, from the details of server design and config, to the OS and all apps.

The last point explains why they’ve been able to beat many enterprise datacenters for uptime and availability.

The StorageMojo take
The optimistic take on current legacy vendor troubles is that the new technologies and products they’ve brought to market just need to be given time to grow. Eventually they’ll take up the slack.

EMC’s DSSD and XtremeIO, and NetApp’s SolidFire buy exemplify this thinking. Sorry, no.

Why? The array market is in a permanent secular decline. High performance flash owns the OLTP business, and is, in turn facing competition from in-memory databases and, soon, even larger non-volatile memory systems.

What a few vendors – such as HDS, Nutanix, Spectra and HP – realize is that there is another way to compete with the cloud: price. It is possible to beat the cloud on price with scale-out commodity object storage systems.

Right now they’re focused on archiving, but I expect that these object storage system will increase in performance over the next decade to the point where they will be practically indistinguishable from current NAS boxes – only cheaper and much more scalable.

One thing that would help businesses see the advantages of object storage would be to ditch the name. How about “Super-scale NAS”? Its worked for Ethernet and USB.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.