We’ve seen this movie before
The value of legacy array intellectual property is collapsing. This isn’t complicated: SSDs have made IOPS – what hard drive arrays were optimizing for the last 25 years – easy and cheap.

Think of all the hard-won – well, engineered – optimizations that enabled HDD-based arrays to dominate the storage market for much of the last 20 years.

  • RAID codes. Software disk mirroring – a huge money-maker in the 80s – moved into small, cheap(er) controllers, followed by RAID 5 and, later, RAID 6.
  • Caching. Given the bursty nature of most storage traffic, controller-based caches dramatically improved average performance.
  • Redundancy. RAID managed – but never solved – the problem of disk failure, but drive interface, driver, and array controller redundancy issues – such as cache coherency – required lots of careful problem solving.
  • I/O stack. This wasn’t typically an storage vendor problem, but there was lots of collaboration.

While these techniques remain relevant, the massive “storage operating systems” embedded into legacy storage arrays are now boat anchors, dragging performance down while remaining costly in support and CPU cycles. That’s been the problem plaguing VMAX and VNX ever since EMC embedded the first STEC SSD into them: the architecture allowed only a fraction of the possible SSD performance to be achieved.

Remember the minicomputer?
Joe Tucci does. He was the CEO of Wang Labs after it emerged from the PC holocaust that took down all the minicomputer companies.

The PC started the process of destroying decades worth of intellectual property value held by vertically integrated computer companies. Newcomers, like Dell, could buy CPUs from Intel, an OS from Microsoft, RDBMS from Oracle, disks from Seagate and networking from 3Com and Novell at much lower cost than the DECs and Data Generals could continue to upgrade their own products.

Today, the variety of storage alternatives – cloud, AFA, hybrids, converged, etc. – is destroying the value of legacy array software and architectures. The increasing pace of storage change from new non-volatile memories will accelerate the process.

The StorageMojo take
The destruction of the minicomputer industry by Wintel is not ancient history. Then why have EMC and NetApp been so slow to respond?

To be fair, EMC’s Tucci has been more active than NetApp’s team in taking on cloud and flash. But selling EMC to Dell – after failing to persuade HP to buy it – shows what Tucci thinks of EMC’s chances as a standalone storage company.

Storage systems will remain on the market. There are a number of options available today that are as cheap, or cheaper, than cloud storage – and earning good margins. More on that in another post.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.