The ongoing battle for 3Par by HP & Dell tells us much more about the state of the IT Industry than just the desires of two companies to acquire some interesting storage tech. It signals an acceptance that storage is a key feature in the future direction of the IT industry — more important than networking and almost as important as the virtualisation platform itself.
This may seem like a bold statement to make, however we need to look forward to where the industry is headed. First of all, vendors want us to buy their unified hardware stacks; it represents that move back to a consolidated architecture that kept one vendor dominant in the mainframe days — IBM. “No-one gets fired for buying IBM” the saying goes (or used to go), demonstrating how IBM was seen as the data centre supplier for all things computing in the 70’s and 80’s. Of course we know that politics within organisations and the cost of IBM hardware eventually broke the monopoly, but the status quo worked well for many companies for many years.
Now, Cisco, EMC, VMware, HP, Oracle and potentially many others want to own your data centre. They want you bought into their computing stack. Over time, I suspect many of those same companies want to move you to their cloud infrastructure offerings, even if they don’t offer them today. This will be both directly and indirectly. There will be the direct model, where the vendor offers cloud services to you under their name; there will be the indirect model where their technology powers the cloud provider, or is offered as a service. It’s at this point the 3Par acquisition becomes much more interesting.
3Par already have many customers in the cloud services sector. In fact they sell their hardware on the virtues of multi-tenancy, reduced cost through thin provisioning, tight integration with virtual hypervisors and so on. In this growth sector of the industry, cost is a key driver and no end user or company will pay more than they need for storage. This means Enterprise arrays like those from Hitachi and EMC won’t play a central role in this future, but rather storage devices which provide the highest efficiency will. Where do all the major players stand?
- EMC have entered the market with a brand new platform — Atmos. Although withdrawn as a direct service, Atmos continues to be available from partners. EMC have chosen to use their own technology as the foundation for cloud. In addition, VPLEX provides the ability to virtualise the storage layer, including federation features that fit well with VMware.
- HP have a strong blade server offering for their cloud infrastructure. Matrix provides orchestration for the server, network and some parts of the storage layer, however this work is incomplete and doesn’t fit well with the high end XP arrays. Slotting 3Par into the storage layer would provide a storage platform well suited to HPs unified computing infrastructure. It means EVA can be quietly dropped and XP can be retained (in whatever future guise) for high end customers (including mainframe) and if required, gradually dropped.
- Cisco have chosen to partner with EMC rather than acquire storage technology itself. In fact, looking and both EMC and Cisco, they need each other; EMC have no server platform, Cisco have no storage; it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, a bit like Jack Sprat and his wife. At this stage, Cisco could have purchased 3Par and provided and end-to-end solution, but clearly that would be a big step and would require kicking EMC to the kerb, something they obviously don’t want to do (yet).
- Hitachi have server and storage offerings, however Blade Symphony is mainly sold in domestic Japan and not widely advertised globally. They do have the potential to provide an end-to-end offering as Hitachi also sell networking equipment. Key for Hitachi will be credibility in a market they don’t currently play in.
- IBM should have all the components of a consolidated infrastructure but there doesn’t appear to be a lot of discussion about their offerings. They appear to have two strategies — Dynamic Infrastructure and Cloud Computing but their offerings aren’t clear.
- Dell clearly wanted 3Par to fit into their medium to high-end storage offerings. Today Equallogic has successfully met their SMB requirements, but they OEM technology from EMC (CLARiiON and Symmetrix) for the rest. Acquiring 3Par would remove that dependency and allow Dell to offer end-to-end technology as their own products.
- Netapp have a self-proclaimed unified architecture that does fit well with virtualisation from VMware. However they don’t own any other parts of the technology stack and so must partner to deliver unified offerings. Netapp are covering all bases by offering solutions with VMware, Microsoft and Citrix, but none of these could be described as the unified stack other vendors have.
- Oracle already provide an integrated infrastructure based around their Exadata acquisitions and of course all of the Sun Microsystems technology, however I’m not sure many companies would see the Oracle offerings as other than tied directly to their database platform and not for virtualisation.
Overall, 3Par fit the requirements of HP & Dell to provide integrated technology offerings. The move to the cloud will require leaner and efficient storage products, plus tight integration and orchestration. It’s all about positioning today for bigger returns tomorrow.