Dell, new storage superpower?

By | August 19, 2010

NOTE: Originally posted 19th August 2010 but temporarily removed.  Obviously since I wrote this, HP have come along and trumped Dell in their bid for 3PAR…

Earlier this week Dell wrecked my day when they announced their intention to acquire 3PAR, the company that – in my personal opinion – has the best storage array architecture on the market.

Why did this wreck my day? 

Personally I felt that 3PAR, and their top-notch architecture, deserved somebody better than Dell – no offence Dell.  Let’s face it though, Dell isn’t exactly synonymous with great enterprise storage…  If Id had my pick, I would have preferred HP pick up 3PAR. But hey, life goes on.

Best of Breed

However, now that I've had a chance to think, I’ve made an about-turn and changed my opinion.  Here’s why –

Dell already have a quality iSCSI array in guise of the Dell EqualLogic line, and I think that iSCSI has a great future in the SMB space.  Big tick in that box for Dell.

Now they have a best of breed FC block storage array that can compete with the Symmetrix and USP gorillas of the storage world!  And let’s face it, while it might not be growing at a huge pace, block storage shows no signs of going away in the enterprise space.  And even if FCoE eventually gets its act together and gobbles up the FC market, the 3PAR technology will adapt to that as easily as any other FC block storage array out there.  So, big tick in the Enterprise storage box for Dell too.

In fact, Dell now look better positioned than HP at the high end.  HP currently still OEM the Hitachi enterprise line of products in the enterprise block storage space.  These days companies are scrambling to own the stack, and Dell owning the 3PAR technology looks better than HP OEM’ing the Hitachi technology – emphasis on “owning”.

Let’s also remember that a few weeks ago Dell announced their intention to acquire Ocarina Networks.  I’ve been to Ocarina HQ, talked with some of their guys and know a little about their technology.  Smarts like those provided by the likes of Ocarina that allow for compression, de-dupe and other means of storing our data more efficiently have a great future in my opinion.  If Dell are able to integrate the Ocarina IP into the EqualLogic and 3PAR lines then they will have a really compelling story.  So that’s another big tick in the box for Dell.

With the above in mind, the Dell storage portfolio looks to be at serious risk of becoming synonymous with “Best of Breed”.  Surely not! :-S

What’s missing

With so many ticks in boxes, what is still missing for Dell?

Well, a line-up that includes a top-notch block array (3PAR), a top-notch iSCSI array (EqualLogic) and some top-notch storage optimisation technologies (Ocarina) deserves a top-notch NAS device. 

I’m not convinced that Exanet fits the top “top-notch” moniker in today’s ultra-cometetive scale-out NAS world

Looking at what is potentially available on the market, Isilon Systems must be in the potential line of fire.  They recently became a Billion dollar company so they won’t be cheap, but heck, you get what you pay for right! 

I remember hearing rumours that HP’s first choice scale-out NAS acquisition might have been Isilon when they went shopping for scale-out NAS and ended up buying IBRIX.  So, what better way to land a heavy kick to the cahoonas of one of your most fierce rivals than to go out and land something they supposedly weren’t able to land.  Of course I am only speculating that HP would have preferred to buy Isilon!  Let me just add that I personally like the looks of IBRIX, or the X9000 range as HP now call it.

Anyway, adding Isilon to the Dell storage portfolio would pretty much give Dell a store line-up to be reckoned with.  Granted, a million miles away from being integrated with each other, but nonetheless really cool and compelling technologies.

Without any doubt though, if Dell are to complete the acquisition of 3PAR and then went on to pick up someone like Isilon, then we would be waking up to a world with a new storage superpower called “Dell”.

All that would then remain in order to truly compete with the likes of Cisco, HP and IBM would be a networking platform – may be something innovative and different like Xsigo might be in order?

Oh and of course they would need to go out there and invest in acquiring a decent server platform πŸ˜›

PS. You can join in the real-time tech talk by following me on Twitter – @nigelpoulton

14 thoughts on “Dell, new storage superpower?

  1. John Dias

    Given my employment status (Compellent) this comment may seem disingenuous – but I've heard it said that "it ain't enterprise if it don't support mainframe" which would seem to put 3Par out of contention for some deals.  I don't know that this removes the check mark you gave Dell but it certainly doesn't fully level the playing field with the enterprise set.

  2. TimC

    So… why exactly is/was 3par your favorite?  I've looked at them many times over the last 5 years and they don't appear to do much of anything unique.  They don't scale as well as EMC or HP.  They don't have "features" to compete with Compellent or NetApp.  To me, they appear to be an "us too", without providing the features or scalability of their competitors.  They're like the gnu/hurd of the storage world.  Great in theory, in practice they bring exactly 0 to the table.

  3. Nigel Poulton Post author

    Hi John,

    I hear what you’re saying about mainframe support. And as you say, for some people this will remove the tick from the enterprise box. However, for me, nobody else is ever going to add support for mainframe due to the heavy investment and extremely poor prospects of ever being accepted into the “mainframe world”. With this in mind I believe that technologies such as 3PAR and XIV are contenders for the “enterprise” moniker. MAy be Open Systems Entperprise” or “Open Systems Tier 1” are better classifications?

    TimC,

    I was careful to say that I believe 3PAR have the best “architecture”. Im not saying they are the best.

    For example, they are best of breed when it comes to RAID protection, as well as operational and administrative simplicity. In todays “enterprise world” legacy RAID architectures are a train-wreck waiting to happen. Also, arrays that are complicated from an operations, admin, capacity planning etc perspectives are a nightmare to most enterprises.
    There are other reasons I like them but that would probably deserve a post of its own.

    I agree though that they don’t scale as well as EMC or Hitachi and certainly lack the features and ecosystem that NetApp enjoys.

    Nigel

  4. Nick Dyer

    Speaking from the Xsigo camp (and once was EQL) – the 3PAR acquisition is a great move, and in my view really outlines Dell's intention to move away from the past and become a true enterprise play. Sure, 3PAR had challenges executing and supporting on a Global level, but that's one thing Dell can certainly change. Also yes, the issue of innovate features is a negative compared to other vendors (although a few years ago they certainly were innovating more than EMC and Netapp, for example)

    For the Dell POV, take what they did with EQL, in 2008 when I joined there were close to 500 customers worldwide, in the last quarter before I left this year Dell shipped over 500 individual arrays to new customers worldwide. Bundle this with accelerating the features roadmap drastically, it certainly made the best out of a great product.

    On the "Xsigo being acquired" comments – never say never, but I personally believe it won't happen within the next year (I hope!!)

  5. Nigel Poulton Post author

    Hi Nick,

    On the Xsigo front….. its interesting the dilema of whether or not to be acquired. I appreciate why people dont want the startups they work for to be bought as its always interesting and challenging to build the technology and the business and no doubt very cool to be a part of the ride. But on the other hand, the resources that the bigger more established customers bring open up so many new opportunities and possibilities. And it seems quite fashionable these days to acquire a company but allow them at least some element of autonomy to continue to innovate without the associated politics that comes with being closely tied to the mother-ship….

  6. Pete Gerr

    Certainly an evocative post, Nigel, and there will undoubtedly be much hang-wringing in Hopkinton (EMC), Palo Alto (HP) and Armonk (IBM) about the POTENTIAL of 3Par being in the hands of Dell, but a spec sheet, hot architecture, and the Dell name does not a USP or DMX killer make. 

    I'll be posting on this at some point over at my HDS blog, http://blogs.hds.com/pete/, but in short, I think it comes down to a statement you made here: 

    If Dell are able to integrate the Ocarina IP into the EqualLogic and 3PAR lines then they will have a really compelling story. 

    That is a BIG "IF" my friend, and although Dell has had success pushing the easy-to-configure, low-end, iSCSI-centric EQL box through their massive distribution channels by bundling it with their own Windoze servers, selling an enterprise SAN box into enterprise shops that run their businesses on HDS, EMC, and sometimes IBM takes a lot more than putting a 3Par SKU and config on the Dell ordering portal. 

    I could go into the question of "how the heck is a customer going to manage all these different boxes?", but that's a post in itself…

    Not saying it's not "possible", I'm simply saying it certainly isn't a certainty. πŸ˜‰

    Good discussion, look forward to continuing it with you. 

    Pete

  7. Nick Dyer

    Nigel,

    Completely agree on both accounts – our Dell relationship is extremely "tight" (excuse the US terminology!) and even have the VP of Large Enterprise at Dell presenting at our VMworld launch event in two weeks time… And Dell did keep EQL's engineering base in Boston instead of moving them to Texas, so yes they are leaving them alone, per se, and I believe they'll do the same with 3PARs base in Fremont, CA.

    Out of all the big guns, I believe Dell would be the best place for Xsigo, if it ever got to that point. I'd hate Xsigo to become the next Topspin!

  8. Nigel Poulton Post author

    Hi Pete,

    Good to hear from you.

    I dont expect 3PAR in the hands of Dell to blast a hole in the Symmetrix or USP market share. But I do expect to see more and more 3PAR out there.

    There is no question that the 3PAR kit has its advantages (and disadvantages) over the two old ladies of the enterprise storage world (Symm and USP). Now that it has the resources of Dell behind it, it has more of a chance to compete.

    Ive often wondered which of the two is harder –

    1. To rework Symm and USP to be as flexible future-ready as 3PAR

    -OR-

    2. To bring 3PAR up to the scalability and feature robustness etc of Symm and USP

    Both appear to be immense challenges.

    While I agree that integrating Ocarina IP in to the EQL and 3PAR lines will be hard, at least they have the IP and therefore the potential to do it. Similarly for IBM with the Storewize IP. What do Hitachi have? (rhetorical question)

    As for your question “how the heck is a customer going to manage all those different boxes?”…. I could state the obvious and say theat it is probably easier to individually manage an EqualLogic AND a 3PAR, AND an Ocarina device than it is to manage a single USP πŸ˜›

    However, Im hoping that will changing with the next release of Hitachi Device Manager. But alas, Ive been hoping that for the last twenty releases of Device Manager πŸ˜‰

    Interesting times!

    Oh and I’ll forgive you for the “Windoze” jibe πŸ˜‰

  9. Pete Gerr

    Couldn't resist the Windoze jibe – and knew you'd pick up on that, sorry mate. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for responding, Nigel

    Definitely interesting times…not speaking for my employer, HDS, now, but I've been a fan of 3Par and their architecture since the beginning and when I was at NTAP I wished we would have bought them.

    The fear then (while at NTAP) was that a vendor that could actually integrate both the technology and the 3Par team would acquire them – we always feared HP or IBM buying 3Par. They (NTAP) had hoped Dell would buy 3Par because of their feeble M&A record prior to EQL, which they've done very well with – basically Dell would be doing all of us a favor by killing 3Par off…now we get to see if that'll happen.  

    But to respond to your #1 vs. #2 question above, which is the correct question to ask IMHO, in my 15 years in this industry, #1 is the better bet because you have to factor in a vendor's engineering talent, R&D budget and experience with technology, the vendor's ability to position and sell such a box into an enterprise-class data center that is currently running on HDS, EMC or IBM, and all the other issues these customers will look at like reference accounts, DR/BC solutions, application integration, etc, etc, etc that make the enterprise what it is. You can't just design an enterprise-class architecture on paper and expect customers to trust it or put it into production. 

    No doubt, 3Par is cool, but I've seen too many spending sprees like the one Dell has been on lately fail to ever return on the potential that I'll remain a skeptic for now. 

    All the best, Pete

  10. Nigel Poulton Post author

    Hi Pete,

    The potential of Dell killing off 3PAR, or slowly starving it, was my initial reaction and why the news of the potential acquisition initially wrecked my day.

    But when you look at what they’ve done with the EqualLogic acquisition, I think they are serious about their storage business. So I dont think any favours for HDS, EMC or IBM are on the cards.

    While I agree that it must be hard work trying to sell 3PAR in to true enterprise accounts (similar to the early NetApp days where they couldn’t even give their kit away to the big banks) there are a lot of what could be termed “fringe enterprise” accounts out there where potential to uproot USP and Symmetrix exists. E.g. I spoke a while ago about so called tier 1.5 technologies like XIV having a sweet-spot in outsourcing environments such as EDS, CSC etc where its somebody elses data you are managing and cost is King. Those types of accounts will be in the cross-hairs.

    Speaking of XIV, may be Dell will do similar things for 3PAR, although I appreciate IBM has far more enterprise pedigree than Dell.

    Re: whether or not option 1 is easier than option 2 from above –

    I hear what your saying, but I imagine changing the underlying RAID architecture and ucode of USP (that base code no doubt underpins everything else such as virtulisation, dynamic provisioning etc) is no mean feat either. And it needs to be done IMO.

  11. TimC

    Nigel: Humor me as I only have access to publicly available docs for 3par.  Exactly how is their RAID-MP superior to NetApp RAID-DP?  It looks to me like they're doing essentially the same thing, only with an ASIC.  Which means ("in theory") you've got a more expensive part that won't benefit from the faster moving x86 CPU architecture.

    5 years ago, when dual-core CPU's were a relative rarity, it made more sense to have dedicated ASICs.  When I can get 12 cores on a single CPU… I have plenty to spare for RAID operations.  There's a reason Hitachi and EMC are moving that direction πŸ™‚  (See AMS and V-MAX for reference).

    I'd love to see an entire post from you.  You're the first person I've heard beyond 3par employees champion the gear.

  12. Nigel Poulton Post author

    TimC,

    I’ll see if I can whip something up this week on why I like the 3PAR architecture. Keep your eye out for it

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