Storage worlds collide

Dominant planets in the storage galaxy aligned last week when a partnership deal saw EMC Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. lock orbits and the gravitational pull intensifying between storage allies Hitachi Ltd. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Significant shifts in the storage market are due to tough, changing times, and the rise of smaller storage start-ups with promising new ideas, industry analysts said.

Whereas large storage consumers such as FedEx welcome the innovation brought by these start-ups, some consumers report that they still look to the leading vendors for guidance, at least for now.

Big players EMC and Dell last week announced a 5-year partnership whereby Dell will resell EMC’s Clariion storage systems. Potentially worth billions of dollars, the symbiotic deal offers Dell two much-needed advances for its limited storage portfolio.

First, traditionally Wintel-centric Dell finds an entrance point into the Unix-based storage market. Second, the company adds what many experts consider a high-end storage system to Dell’s low-and midrange storage menu, as systems such as Clariion, considered midrange by EMC, can scale to as much as 50TB.

EMC wins by being able to now focus resources on what it does best, selling its flagship Symmetrix systems into the ultra-high-end storage market as it gains mind share from Dell. “The midrange information storage market alone last year was about a US$15 billion opportunity, and we were barely scratching the surface,” said Joseph Tucci, EMC’s president and CEO.

Threatening EMC, Hitachi Data Systems last week intensified its storage relationship with Sun, launching new HiCommand software that even EMC representatives admit is targeted directly at EMC’s Control Center enterprise storage-management software. HiCommand fortifies Hitachi’s Lightning 9900 enterprise storage server, which Sun resells as the Sun StorEdge 9900. With the Lightning system and HiCommand software technology, both Hitachi and Sun can now better prevent EMC from selling high-end storage systems to their customers.

These astronomical storage industry consolidations make perfect sense, analysts said. EMC and Hitachi have been prepared to battle it out in the high-end market for some time. Dell and Sun, both primarily server companies and late-comers to the storage game, fare better by riding a partner’s coattails, said storage systems analyst Charlotte Rancourt, at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Significantly, the consolidations represent a growing trend among large storage companies to embrace their core competencies at a critical time of change in the industry.

“The normal way we do storage is changing. We seem to be in the waning years where consolidation makes sense,” said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass.

The EMC-Dell and Hitachi-Sun moves also take place in a red-hot storage market where other giants such as Hewlett-Packard and Compaq are already set on a consolidation collision course because of an impending merger. Compaq alone has recently been taking a bite out of EMC’s high-end storage market share and is positioned to continue pressuring the high end with the announcement last week of its StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array storage server. And IBM, which has recently come of age as a significant high-end storage player, is set to capitalize on any customer confusion.

Meanwhile, as the dominant storage vendors collide, the onslaught of young storage start-ups is generating interest in new technology that can deliver interoperable storage tools a full year ahead of the big players.

Backed with venture capital, start-ups such as virtualization company TrelliSoft, storage management company Astrum Software, and iSCSI technology company StoneFly Networks appeared in force at last week’s Storage Networking World (SNW) Fall 2001 trade show in Orlando, Fla.

Experts believe these and similar start-ups offer desperately needed tools that the big players simply have not delivered, such as the capability of reassigning a task-specific storage device.

“We’re all about bringing storage management from the physical to the logical, then from the logical to the physical,” said Theresa Zanetti O’Neil, the vice-president of marketing at TrelliSoft, a 2-year-old start-up based in Glen Ellyn, Ill. O’Neil expects TrelliSoft to create real change in the storage market very soon. “No one wants to stay proprietary,” she said.

By year’s end, Astrum Software will add policy-based storage management to its line of diverse storage software, which can already scan and populate 2TB of data in less than a minute. Improvements will give users what Astrum President and CEO Robert Infantino called a “view-and-do” capability. Propelled last March by a US$5.3 million Series A round of funding, Astrum can turn around many special software requests from customers in less than a week, Infantino said.

What differentiates these start-ups from the major players is their ability to deliver storage technology that works across multivendor platforms, a feat large vendors are still in the process of achieving.

But being young has its drawbacks, explained Bob Kerrigan, a senior technical analyst at FedEx’s distributed systems support group, and a SNW attendee.

Although he was impressed by much of the new storage technology on display by start-ups at the Orlando show, Kerrigan had reservations about the ability of some young companies to provide the level of service a FedEx demands.

“Sure [the start-ups] have service, but we ask them, ‘Can you get us service in Kansas City?’ And if they delay in answering, then we begin to have our doubts,” Kerrigan said. “We’re already in the fast lane,” he said, adding that it might be wiser to take some of the new ideas from the show and ask IBM representatives if Big Blue, with its hefty resources, can deliver its own version of them.

Most start-ups at SNW admitted they would listen to acquisition offers from a larger storage company such as IBM or EMC, but few relished the idea, preferring instead to charge forward maintaining their autonomy.

“More than ever before we’re seeing this groundswell of emerging storage companies radically different than anything that has ever happened,” Enterprise Storage Group’s Duplessie said.

EMC Taps WideSky

Looking to repeat its success in the storage hardware business and become a leader in storage software, EMC this week parted clouds that veiled its WideSky storage management middleware technology.

WideSky is free middleware that gives users the ability to integrate a vast range of third-party vendor storage products into a single storage management architecture, said George Mele, the director of software marketing at EMC, based in Hopkinton, Mass.

The key to WideSky are APIs that control third-party systems. With WideSky, EMC has essentially scoured the globe for every available storage API and loaded them into the middleware, Mele said. Storage APIs for EMC’s own Clariion and Symmetrix hardware systems are included, as well as APIs spanning Unix, Windows NT, and Linux storage systems from companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Compaq.

Network switch and host component APIs are also loaded into WideSky, and EMC will add multiple APIs from Hitachi and IBM early next year, as well as any other storage APIs that become available.

If APIs are not available for a certain third-party storage system, EMC technicians will deliver control of the system to the WideSky customer through the system’s CLI (command-line interface), according to Mele.

“The [WideSky] customer never has to do anything,” he said. “If Company X comes out with a new widget and customers have to have it, our middleware guys start coding to Company X’s CLIs immediately. Everything in WideSky is done by EMC.”

Free to anyone buying EMC storage software, WideSky is a volume-deal market play by EMC, based on the assumption that EMC will sell more software, Mele said.

“This is EMC the independent software vendor,” Mele added. “You don’t have to have a stitch of EMC hardware.”

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