EMC implies that SANs may not be so great for hosting virtual machines after all

The inventor of the storage array, EMC, has indicated that a hardware-designed architecture is perhaps no longer the best solution for hosting a virtualized datacenter. The Register reported today that EMC will utilize ScaleIO as a VMware kernel module.

As I pointed out in the introductory post to this site less than two months ago, IDC says that $56B of annual server and storage sales go through just seven datacenter manufacturers: HP, IBM, EMC, Dell, Cisco, Oracle and NetApp. EMC’s announcement means that the majority now have a certified hyper-converged solution (not even counting EVO:Rail):

  • EMC:     ScaleIO
  • Cisco:    Maxta. Cisco also has invested in Stratoscale.
  • HP:         StoreVirtual
  • Dell:       XC Series web-scale converged appliances, powered by Nutanix software

Despite their dependency upon legacy 3-tier infrastructure for tens of billions in revenues, these datacenter giants recognize the necessity of joining the hyper-converged revolution. The threat of public cloud combined with much faster access to information is resulting in an astounding pace of its adoption.

SAN Huggers

Back in the aughts, we had to contend with the server huggers who staunchly refused to believe that their applications could run as well, let alone better, as virtual machines. But the financial and other advantages were too compelling to resist, and datacenters are now approaching an 80% virtualization rate.

Today, server huggers have been replaced by SAN huggers. These are the folks who insist that it is preferable to move flash and disk away from the compute and put them into proprietary arrays that must be accessed across the network. Never mind the issues around complexity, performance, resiliency, time-to-market and cost.

But just as virtualization provided an enormous opportunity for forward-thinking channel partners last decade, Web-scale has even more potential over the next several years. The key is introducing the concept in a way that will resonate with customers steeped in years of 3-tier infrastructure tradition.

Financial Modeling

It is natural for technologists, including channel partners, to jump into speeds and feeds and attributes and deficiencies. But I suggest taking a different tact. Help customers see a bigger picture, and consequently adopt a more strategic approach, with the aid of financial modeling.

IT leaders are realizing that to remain relevant, they need to run their internal operations with the same type of efficiency, responsiveness and accountability as the public cloud providers. This necessitates a more comprehensive process for selecting infrastructure than simply comparing up-front costs of similar solutions.

Cloud providers ruthlessly evaluate all of their on-going costs to ensure they are maximizing every square meter of datacenter space. Transitioning to ITaaS requires evaluating not only the equipment purchase price, but also expenses such as power, cooling, rack space, support, administration and associated hardware and software requirements.

One approach is to boil everything down to a lifecycle cost metric that can be easily applied to competing solutions. I describe a TCO per VM model in a recent Wikibon article. But regardless of how partners present the results, financial modeling on its own is insufficient for optimally determining an organization’s datacenter future.

Financial modeling is the hook to capture a prospect’s attention and to guarantee an audience with decision-makers. It is the key for partners to really understand their client’s pain points and objectives. They can then incorporate other vital variables such as risk, expandability, agility, reliability, resiliency, and so on within a framework that will resonate with their customers.

Going through this process positions a solutions provider to help its customers begin the datacenter migration process. It also provides the opportunity to incorporate private cloud, active/active datacenters, virtual desktops and other use cases made economically feasible by a hyper-converged infrastructure.

Disruption Made Easy

Even a compelling Web-scale evaluation can still leave a partner challenged to disrupt existing buying habits, processes and governance policies. But now that EMC has joined VMware and three of the other leading hardware manufacturers in validating hyper-converged infrastructure, it is easier for partners to initiate a conversation around datacenter strategy.

The winners in the new software-defined era will be those solutions providers who help their customers understand, select and implement the best architecture for their environments. The losers will be the VARs who continue to push legacy solutions without even bringing the Web-scale options to the table.

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