Unified Storage Problems?

NetApp’s unified storage platform is a compelling vision for a customer; one platform to support pretty much all your storage needs. It is a powerful sell, it is still pretty much a USP for them; everyone else has to fake it by glomming together storage products and pretending.

But if we dig a little deeper; is NetApp’s unified storage platform going to become a millstone? I suspect that it might; arguably it already has. Just looking at the length of time it took them to get OnTap 8 out of the doors and the issues that has brought; the bringing together of GX and traditional OnTap took too long and probably depleted them of development resources.

It might have been better if they had decided to let them live as two separate products rather than the painful union that faced them. Concentrating on making OnTap 8 64 bit and ensuring things such as seamless migration from 32 bit aggregates to 64 bit aggregates might have actually been of more value to more customers.

Having to integrate any new idea/innovation into OnTap slows time to market because time needs to be taken to work out how to technically integrate it; how to test it and generally make sure that it does not break existing functionality or at least have detrimental effect.

The competitors can ‘simply’ build a new product line without impacting their existing code-base; yes, they can borrow from the existing base and utilise common components; for example the underlying base operating system may be the same custom Linux environment across their products but they do not have to worry about detrimental impact.

And now we have object storage; is integrating object storage just a step too far for the USP. Actually, technically, it should not be a huge challenge but commercially I can see issues. NetApp’s object storage is going to be the most expensive object storage in the world! They are going to be competing with commodity disk prices and the only way that they can do this is to trash their own margins.

I think that is going to be painful. it might well be better for NetApp commercially to be able to sell OnTap ObjectStore (not it’s real name, I just made that up) as a completely different product but that would mean accepting that the Unified Storage Platform is not the best answer to what may well be a purely commercial problem. Technically and aesthetically it is very elegant but it is it long term practical?

Of course, EMC still have far too many storage products and their sales-team live in a general state of confusion.

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Martin Glassborow

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