The Good News/Hard Truth about Storage Management Software


crowded-products.jpgNot so long back at ESG, we were asked to comment on the current state of the storage management software space. Remember that space? The question was really focused on a comparative evaluation of the various tools available, but frankly, it made us think more about the long-term relevance of what had been a pretty interesting niche within the overall data storage and management universe. More specifically, it made us wonder with some rigor whether all the current talk of SDS-this and orchestration-that mitigates in favor of storage management software or against it?

Here’s what we came up with:  

  • Being blunt there doesn’t seem to have much value for individuals learning about the purpose-built storage management software market in 2017. It’s a declining market that was born in the late 1990s and got a ton of VC investment (I have not checked, but it would surprise me if it wasn’t around $1B)…yet it never really took off. The number of IT organizations that have a need—and, more importantly, budget—for specific storage management software is dwindling. Storage management functionality is, instead, moving “up the stack” into operating systems (e.g., Microsoft Windows Server, and others), virtualization layers (e.g., VMware for sure), converged and hyperconverged systems (e.g., Nutanix, Simplivity, and more), software-defined infrastructure stacks (e.g., OpenStack, and many more closed ones!), and—of course!—the public cloud.   

  • To expand on that last point: When workloads move to the public cloud (whether SaaS/IaaS/PaaS), the storage management problem of course goes away entirely as an IT pain point, and certainly as a standalone budgeted investment priority. Perhaps more accurately, the storage management problem and need didn’t go away per se, but it moved on to be a problem for the public cloud providers to address. When an IT organization moves workloads to the public cloud, the management problem is (at least assumed to be) fully taken care of by SaaS (e.g., Office 365 and Salesforce), IaaS (e.g., Amazon AWS), or PaaS (e.g., Google) vendors.  
  • For the shrinking number of applications—albeit they are often the most important ones —that need to stay on-premises, the move to iSCSI and shared DAS application architectures (e.g., Hadoop) is driving out much of the FC SAN complexity that drove the birth of the of the storage management software market in the early 2000s. Indeed, whilst it’s a deliberate exaggeration, maybe “still-born” would be a more accurate description. NetApp, IBM, HPE, and Dell/EMC are the main vendors fighting over the dwindling on-premises storage management software market that’s left in the data center. Instead, what’s left is an element of storage management that should be—and increasingly is—built into any on-premises storage array at no additional charge (and it's often easy, intuitive, and highly automated to boot). 
Back to the question I posed: Does all the current talk of SDS-this and orchestration-that mitigate in favor of storage management software or against it? The answer is pretty clear for the medium term (since nothing in IT changes overnight of course), which is that storage management software capabilities will continue to be important, but such capabilities become featuresincreasingly “check box” items as wellrather than products. Thus the “good news/hard truth” mentioned in the title of this piece is probably obvious by nowwhich descriptor you see fit to apply depends on whether you are a user and consumer of storage management or one of the vendors trying to sell it as an add-on!
Topics: Storage