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NetApp has just agreed to acquire Engenio, which is the external storage systems business of LSI Corporation. An obvious question is how this will affect our unified architecture. Will we now suffer from the disadvantages that EMC faces with its fragmented product line? We don’t think so and here’s why.

 

The problems of multiple architectures stem from having different features in different product lines. How many different cloning mechanisms must a customer learn? How many times must the engineers develop deduplication? How many versions of dedupe must they maintain? And of course, the same questions apply to thin provisioning, compression, Oracle integration, Exchange integration, and on and on and on.

 

Here’s the key point: this type of advanced data management has not been the primary focus for Engenio. Their RAID array is enterprise quality, highly available, very dense, very high bandwidth – and also very simple.  This makes all the difference. Let’s examine some pain-points of having multiple architectures in more detail, and consider whether they apply to NetApp with Engenio.

 

(1)  Hard for Customers to Learn

The customer must learn how to deploy and manage multiple implementations of the same advanced data management features. Not with NetApp. ONTAP has the features and Engenio does not.

 

(2)  Hard for Vendors to Develop

The vendor must develop and maintain multiple implementations of the same advanced feature. Not with NetApp. We add them to ONTAP and not to Engenio.

 

(3)  Hard for Customers to Choose

How do you choose which product to buy when each architecture has different features? This is especially confusing for a shared storage infrastructure intended for use with many different applications. There can be painful tradeoffs if one product – say – supports dedupe for NAS but a different one supports thin provisioning for SAN. Not an issue for NetApp. If you want the advanced data management features, go with ONTAP which has them all.

 

I’m over-simplifying. There will surely be some overlap, but NetApp and Engenio have very different design points optimized for different workloads and market segments. Having one advanced storage architecture and one basic RAID array is very different from having a portfolio of advanced storage architectures, each with different features, some in common and some not. (Finally, whether or not you believe my analysis, “two” is much simpler than “lots.”)

 

So why did we buy Engenio? What is the opportunity, and how do we expect it to evolve over time?

 

The observation is that, while many customers and workloads do require advanced data management, some need “big bandwidth” without the fancy features. For them, the best solution is a very fast RAID array with great price/performance. Perfect for Engenio! Two immediate opportunities are Full Motion Video (FMV) and Digital Video Surveillance (DVS), and over time we believe there will be more. Engenio didn’t have the partners or the sales force to reach some of these markets, but NetApp does. And of course, Engenio is also a successful business with a great team of talented folks and an install base of 350,000 units. So much the better!

 

For me personally, there is a much more interesting long term question: What storage arrays should we use if we move ONTAP into a virtual machine? I expect this question will surprise some people. What!? Isn’t NetApp a hardware company? Surely they wouldn’t even consider selling ONTAP as a VM! Not only would we consider it, but we are doing it. The first version is a product developed in partnership with Fujitsu and it is shipping now.

 

I don’t know the future of ONTAP in a VM (aka Virtual Storage Array or VSA), but let me share a story. Many years ago, several startups developed storage controllers that went in front of other people’s storage. They argued, to their VCs, that there would be no competition from us “because NetApp would never ship storage controllers without disks.” We surprised them by creating the V-Series, which lets you run ONTAP on top of storage from many other vendors, including EMC, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and – of course – Engenio. The V-Series started small but eventually became a major product line for us. If history is any guide, running ONTAP as a virtual machine could become a big business and also a great match for Engenio storage. This isn’t an announcement – I’m just trying to give a general sense of the possibilities here.

 

PS: Last week I (finally!) got around to signing up for twitter. @DaveHitz.

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