Server way of locked-in storage

It is kind of interesting when every vendor out there claims that they are as open as they can be but the very reality is, the competitive nature of the game is really forcing storage vendors to speak open, but their actions are certainly not.

Confused? I am beginning to see a trend … a trend that is forcing customers to be locked-in with a certain storage vendor. I am beginning to feel that customers are given lesser choices, especially when the brand of the server they select for their applications  will have implications on the brand of storage they will be locked in into.

And surprise, surprise, SSDs are the pawns of this new cloak-and-dagger game. How? Well, I have been observing this for quite a while now, and when HP announced their SMART portfolio for their storage, it’s time for me to say something.

In the announcement, it was reported that HP is coming out with its 8th generation ProLiant servers. As quoted:

The eighth generation ProLiant is turbo-charging its storage with a Smart Array containing solid state drives and Smart Caching.

It also includes two Smart storage items: the Smart Array controllers and Smart Caching, which both feature solid state storage to solve the disk I/O bottleneck problem, as well as Smart Data Services software to use this hardware

From the outside, analysts are claiming this is a reaction to the recent EMC VFCache product. (I blogged about it here) and HP was there to put the EMC VFcache solution as a first generation product, lacking the smarts (pun intended) of what the HP products have to offer. You can read about its performance prowess in the HP Connect blog.

Similarly, Dell announced their ExpressFlash solution that ties up its 12th generation PowerEdge servers with their flagship (what else), Dell Compellent storage.

The idea is very obvious. Put in a PCIe-based flash caching card in the server, and use a condescending caching/tiering technology that ties the server to a certain brand of storage. Only with this card, that (incidentally) works only with this brand of servers, will you, Mr. Customer, be able to take advantage of the performance power of this brand of storage. Does that sound open to you?

HP is doing it with its ProLiant servers; Dell is doing it with its ExpressFlash; EMC’s VFCache, while not advocating any brand of servers, is doing it because VFCache works only with EMC storage. We have seen Oracle doing it with Oracle ExaData. Oracle Enterprise database works best with Oracle’s own storage and the intelligence is in its SmartScan layer, a proprietary technology that works exclusively with the storage layer in the Exadata. Hitachi Japan, with its Hitachi servers (yes, Hitachi servers that we rarely see in Malaysia), already has such a technology since the last 2 years. I wouldn’t be surprised that IBM and Fujitsu already have something in store (or probably I missed the announcement).

NetApp has been slow in the game, but we hope to see them coming out with their own server-based caching products soon. More pure play storage are already singing the tune of SSDs (though not necessarily server-based).

The trend is obviously too, because the messaging is almost always about storage performance.

Yes, I totally agree that storage (any storage) has a performance bottleneck, especially when it comes to IOPS, response time and throughput. And every storage vendor is claiming SSDs, in one form or another, is the knight in shining armour, ready to rid the world of lousy storage performance. Well, SSDs are not the panacea of storage performance headaches because while they solve some performance issues, they introduce new ones somewhere else.

But it is becoming an excuse to introduce storage vendor lock-in, and how has the customers responded this new “concept”? Things are fairly new right now, but I would always advise customers to find out and ask questions.

Cloud storage for no vendor lock-in? Going to the cloud also has cloud service provider lock-in as well, but that’s another story.

 

“Ugly Yellow Box” bought by private equity firm

Security is BIG business, probably even bigger than storage and with more “sex” appeal and pazzazz! My friends are owners of 2 of the biggest security distributors in town, so I know. I am not much of a security guy, but I reason I write about Bluecoat is that this company has something close to my heart.

In the early 2000, NetApp used to have a separate division that is not storage. They have a product called NetCache, which is a web proxy solution. It was a pretty decent product and one of the competitors we frequently encounter on the field was an “ugly yellow box” called CacheFlow. Whenever we see an “ugly yellow box” in a rack, we will immediately know that it was a CacheFlow box. NetApp competed strongly with Cache Flow, partly because their CEO and founder, Brian NeSmith, as we NetAppians were told, was ex-NetApp. And there was some animosity between Brian and NetApp, up to the point that I recalled NetApp’s CEO then, Dan Warmenhoven, declaring that “NetApp will bury CacheFlow!“, or something of that nature. At that point, in the circa of 2001-2002, CacheFlow was indeed in a bit of a rut as well. They suffered heavy losses and was near bankcruptcy. A old news from Forbes confirmed Brian NeSmith’s near-bankcruptcy adventure.

 

CacheFlow survived the rut, changed their name to Bluecoat Systems, and changed their focus from Internet caching to security. Know why they are know as “Bluecoat”? They are the policemen of the Internet, and policemen are men in blue coats. I found an old article from Network World about their change.  And they decided not to paint their boxes yellow anymore. ;-)

 

Eventually, it was CacheFlow who triumphed over NetApp. And the irony was NetApp eventually sold the NetCache unit and its technology to BlueCoat in 2006. And hence, that my account of the history of Bluecoat.

Yesterday, Bluecoat was on the history books again, but for a better reason. A private equity firm, Thoma Bravo, has put in USD$1.3 billion to acquire Bluecoat. News here and here.

Have a happy Sunday :D