EMC Strong but Self-Limiting in Crowded Flash Array Storage Market

EMC’s combination of the latest ExtremeIO all-flash array technology, its own strengths in services, and its excellent world-wide support makes it a strong contender in a crowded market that includes all the large IT hardware players, writes Wikibon Co-founder and CTO David Floyer in “Flash-only Arrays at Full Gallop”. But it has limited itself in two ways in the marketplace. First, the EMC XtremeIO array is not in general availability; rather it is in what EMC calls “directed availability”, which Floyer interprets to mean “directed away from VMAX customers”. Second, by killing Thunder, it’s server-side PCIe solution, EMC has chosen an array-centric approach which for many high value database applications will be challenging. It obviously is trying to protect its large installed base of VMAX high-performance disk arrays, but by so doing it has left itself vulnerable in the market to Fusion-io and the other PCIe vendors.

The issue, Floyer explains, is that the faster data can be written to persistent storage, the faster locks can be removed, and therefore the greater the scalability and functionality of the application and database. SAN flash-only arrays operate at the 1-3 microsecond range, an order of magnitude faster than disk arrays. However, PCIe cards can reduce writes to less than 1 microsecond, three orders of magnitude faster. To compete in this space with its PCIe cards, Floyer believes, EMC needs both an atomic write capability and a means of protecting/sharing data at the server level. On Monday, March 4, Fusion-io announced that its Atomic Write capability using VLS and DirectFS software can write non-contiguous small (64 byte) blocks to flash in 100 nanoseconds, four order of magnitude (10,000 times) faster than a SAN-based storage array.

Fusion-io, Floyer writes, is aiming directly at the emerging hyperscale and high-performance database markets that are driving new business models. By failing to enter that market, and instead continuing to focus on read-only solid-state caching on the server fed by master data copies on the array, EMC risks missing a major part of the market. And if EMC does not at least “cover the Fusion-io bet on software-on-the-server-led storage … there could indeed be a one-way ticket to oblivion for a traditional storage vendor.”

Floyer’s full report, like all Wikibon research, is available free-of-charge on the Wikibon Web site. IT professionals are invited to register for free membership in the Wikibon community, which allows them to comment on research and post their own tips, questions, Professional Alerts, and white papers. It also gets them invitations to the periodic Peer Incite meetings, at which peers discuss how they are using advanced technologies in real-world production environments to solve business and technical problems and gain competitive advantage.

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that EMC had no read/write capability on its PCIe cards.