EMC – Flashier Or Not?

Well, apparently this is ‘Flash Announcement Week’ – although even using that term in the last year or so has something of a ‘Groundhog Day’ feel about it! On Monday of this week Violin added server-based flash to its offerings and now EMC has made a whole host of flash portfolio announcements.

Much as there’s that famous “I loved the razor so much that I bought the company” statement (well, something close to that!), EMC obviously loved the company name that it acquired with XtremIO a lot - so much in fact that it’s now become the brand name for EMC’s flash products! New arrivals this week include

  • XtremSF: SF =‘Server Flash.' This is a range of SLC and MLC PCIe-based server flash cards;
  • XtremSW Cache: advanced caching software (the initial version was EMC VFCache)…with clear indications of much more functionality to come in terms of flash management (including such things as pooling, cache coherency, etc., and deep VMware integration) across data centers (this will be called the XtremSW Suite)
  • XtremIO Array: the much-anticipated all-flash storage array is now in ‘directed availability,’ and sports a ‘software-defined’ moniker (Xtrem-ly up-to-date semantics!) as well as a whole host of storage features such as dedupe, thin provisioning, DP, and writeable snaps.

So, enough with the news headlines; what does this mean? First and foremost EMC is continuing down the ‘flash everywhere’ path that it has been following for a few years now. All its standard storage products can have flash included (and so, naturally, are referred to as Hybrid Arrays) and now both a purpose-built all-flash array and server-based flash round out its portfolio. Of course EMC is not the first to market with either of these approaches (though it can legitimately claim to have kicked off this latest era of solid-state when it introduced “EFDs” on Symmetrix in 2007/8), but – let’s face it – it is EMC so that provides something of a step-up! Taken as a whole the importance of what EMC is doing here can be encapsulated in two words – range and software.

  • ‘Range,’ because EMC is simultaneously fulfilling upon and endorsing the concept that flash is both needed and appropriate in many places across the storage hierarchy; this is common sense once you realize that there is not just one size or type (or – therefore – implementation style, or capabilities, or price, or place, or level of performance) of flash storage.
  • ‘Software,’ because that’s really the foundation – and future – of both this announcement and how this technology segment will play out and be won. Once you have a ‘range’ you need both management and ‘table-stakes’ storage functionality if flash is to be more than just a turbo-booster used for limited and specific workloads. Indeed the XtremIO itself is essentially software, and EMC’s announcement is clear on the fact that the XtremSW suite will be ‘device independent.’

In other words, the strategy – a broad portfolio and a reliance on software - is way more important than the specifications. Do I hear XtremVMAX sometime? Or maybe VMware(XtremOS)v1.0? This may be a step too far, but the extensive solid-state portfolio and growing commitment that EMC has to these technologies is far from flashy; it is instead [sensible and hard-to-bet-against] pragmatism writ large.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure