This is my blog entry about the SNIA blogfest on 4 November that I attended, but it’s not what I originally intended to be my blog entry. I was intending just to do a slightly more structured dump of all the details I took down during the meetings with the four vendors, but I don’t think this would be fair to my readers.
At the same time, I’m not a storage expert like the other bloggers who were at the event. In particular, Rodney Haywood and Justin Warren have been dedicating their blogs to strong amounts of information of the details discussed by the vendors. Ben Di Qual tweeted a huge amount during the session as well, and he tweeted towards the end of the day that maybe it’s time for him to launch a blog as well. I’m presuming Graeme Elliott will post something as well (maybe here?)
Perhaps the delays I’ve experienced in finding time to blog about the event have been useful, because it’s made me realise I want to summarise my experience in a different way.
For that, I need an illustration. Having met with the four vendors, and heard their “how we do things” story, I can now visualise each vendor as a tower. And to me, here’s what they look like:
I don’t want to talk about the speeds and feeds of any of the products of any of the vendors. To me, that’s the boring side of storage – though I still recognise its importance. I don’t really care how many IOPs a storage system can do for instance, so long as it can do enough for the purposes of the business that’s deploying it. Though I will say that a common message from vendors was that while companies buy storage initially for capacity, they’ll end up replacing it for performance. (This certainly mirrors what I’ve seen over the years.)
When I got my book published, the first lesson was that it wasn’t so to speak a technical book, but an IT management book. Having learnt that lesson, it subsequently reminded me that my passion in IT is about management, processes and holistic strategies. This is partly why backup is my forté, I think; backup is something that touches on everything within an environment, and needs a total business strategy as opposed to an IT policy.
So the message I got out of the vendors was business strategy, not storage options. This is equally as important a message though – in fact, it’s arguably far more in-depth a message than a single storage message.
I’m hoping the diagrams help to explain the business strategy message I got from the four vendors.
EMC and IBM to me presented the most comprehensive business strategy of the four vendors. This was a mix of what they presented and prior understanding of their overall product range. If I were to rate the actual on-the-day presentations, IBM certainly were the best at communicating their “total business strategy”. IBM though also said that they didn’t quite know what information to present, so they just went for the big picture overview of as much as anything. Whether EMC, as a more active social media company were treating the event as a literal “storage” event, or just through a lack of (foresight? time taken to prepare?), concentrated just on storage. But I still know much of the EMC story. To be fair to IBM, too, they’ve been doing it for a lot, lot longer than any of the other storage companies – so they’re pretty good communicators.
Neither IBM nor EMC provide a total strategy; they both have gaps, of course – I wouldn’t claim that any vendor out there today provides a total strategy. IBM and EMC though are closer to that full picture than either of the other two vendors we met with on that day.
But what about HDS and NetApp?
I don’t believe HDS have a total business strategy story to tell. They want to; they try to, but the message comes out all jumbled and patch-work. They contribute disks and some storage systems themselves, and try to contribute a unifying management layer, and then add an assortment of diverse and not necessarily compatible products into the mix. To be fair: they’re trying to provide a total business strategy, but if I were to put an “IT Manager” hat on, I’m not convinced I’d be happy with their story – as an IT manager I may very well choose to buy one or two products from them, but their total strategy is so piecemeal that there’s no technology reason to try to source everything from them.
For what it’s worth, their “universal management” interface message is as patchy as their product set. It started with (paraphrasing only!) “we provide a unifying management system” and boiled down to “our goal is to provide a unifying management system, when we can”.
To me, that’s not a unified management system.
I should note at this point that I’m working on the blog entry now on battery power, as all of Bunbury appears to have lost power tonight. (Let me speak another time of the appalling lack of redundancy built into Australian power distribution systems.)
On to NetApp. NetApp try to present a total business strategy story. They speak of unified storage where you don’t need to buy product A for function X, product B for function Y and product C for function Z – instead, you just buy über product A that will handle X, Y and Z.
But what about functions P, Q and R? Coming at the process from a “I’m not into storage”, the first thing that jars me with NetApp is the “old backup is dead [edit: John Martin has rightly corrected me – he said ‘backup is evil’]” story. NetApp focus incredibly hard on trying to point out that you never need to backup again so long as you have the right snapshot configuration.
Like IBM’s “incrementals forever are really cool” story, NetApp’s “with snapshot you never need to backup again” strikes me as being almost at 90 degree angles to reality.
(Aside: Of course I’m interested in hearing counter arguments from IBM, and I’ve actually requested trial access to their TSM FastBack product, since I am interested in what it may be able to do – but being told that it doesn’t matter how many incremental backups you’ve done because (paraphrasing!) “a relational database ensures that the recovery is really fast by tracking the backups” isn’t something that convinces me.)
NetApp’s “you never need to backup again” story is at times, from my conservative approach to data protection, a bit like The Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Yet having a company repeatedly insist that X is true because X is true doesn’t make me for one moment believe that X is true: and so, I remain unconvinced that “snapshots forever = backups never” is a valid business strategy except in the most extreme of cases.
Or to put it another way: HDS trotted out an example about achieving only a 4% saving by doing dedupe against 350 virtual machines. I’d call this trying to use an extreme example as a generic one: I’m sure they did encounter a situation where they only got a 4% storage saving by applying dedupe against 350 virtual machines; but I’m equally sure that one example can’t be used as proof that you can’t dedupe against virtual machines.
Likewise, I call shenanigans on NetApp’s bid to declare traditional backup dead [edit: evil]. Sure the biggest of the big companies with the biggest of budgets might be able to do a mix of snapshots and replication and … etc., but very, very few companies can completely eliminate traditional backup. They may of course reduce their need for it in all situations. As soon as you’ve got snapshot capable storage, particularly in the NAS market, you can let users recover data from snaps and then focus backups on longer term protection etc. But that’s not eliminating traditional backup altogether.
[Edit: Following on from correction; I’d like to see NetApp’s “how backup fits into our picture” strategy in better detail, and based on John’s comments, I’m sure he’ll assist!]
So in that sense, we have four vendors who each try, in their own way, to provide a total business strategy. IBM and EMC are the ones that get closest to that strategy, and both NetApp and HDS in their own way were unable to convince me they’re able to do that.
That doesn’t mean to say they should be ignored, of course – but they’re clearly the underdogs in terms of complete offerings. They both clearly have a more complete story to tell than say, one of the niche storage vendors (e.g., Xiotech or Compellent), but their stories are no where near as complete as the vendors who aim for the total vertical.
It was a fascinating day, and I’d like to thank all those involved: Paul Talbut and Simon Sharwood from SNIA; Clive Gold and Mark Oakey from EMC; John Martin from NetApp; Adrian De Luca from HDS; and Craig McKenna, Anna Wells and Joe Cho from IBM. (There were others from IBM, but I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten their names). Of course, big thanks must also go to my fellow storage bloggers/tweeters – Rodney Haywood, Justin Warren, Ben Di Qual and Graeme Elliott. Without any of those people, the day could not have been as useful or interesting as it was.
And there you have it.
Now for the disclosures:
- EMC bought us coffee.
- EMC gave us folios with a pad and paper. I took one. The folio will end up in my cupboard with a bunch of other vendor provided folios from over the years.
- IBM gave us “leftover” neoprene laptop bags from a conference, that had a small pen and pad in it. My boyfriend claimed the neoprene bag.
- IBM bought us coffee.
- IBM provided lunch.
- HDS provided afternoon tea.
- HDS provided drip-filter coffee. I did not however in any way let the drip filter coffee colour my experience on-site. (Remember, I’m a coffee snob.)
- NetApp provided beer and wine. I had another engagement to get to that night, and did not partake in any.