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How storage stacks stack up

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Vendor lock-in. Buying a stack typically equates to vendor lock-in, but it’s usually not very different from an alternative scenario in which the company sets up

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its own infrastructure, often using many of these same vendor components. If a company builds its infrastructure around a single vendor’s stacks, it could still change hardware vendors down the road, but it won’t be as easy as just plugging another storage appliance into the network.

Let’s make a deal. Buying a turnkey integrated stack could be a good option if the above value propositions apply. Unknowns are unpleasant for business managers and integration projects are notorious for taking longer than promised. Paying a premium to get an “instant virtualization environment” or to eliminate the potential of a drawn-out integration experience could be a good investment for many companies.

For vendors, these solutions may be a way to address the pains of integration, short ROIs and complicated infrastructure tuning their customers are now facing. With turnkey stacks, the manufacturers have to do the integration and testing required to certify each stack, but the bundles require less on the development side than new hardware or software products.

How they stack up

The Dell, HP, NetApp and VCE stacks are similar in that they’re essentially bundling existing hardware and software. The real differentiation may be in the integration and support experience each vendor offers. Nutanix Inc.’s Complete Cluster is very different and may offer significant advantages, but Nutanix doesn’t have the history the other vendors and their product components have (see “A stack reshuffled”).

Dell’s marketing is somewhat unique in that it emphasizes the number of VMs each configuration could support. Like buying hardware to support the requirements of the software you’re running, buying a converged solution based on how many VMs you need to support seems logical.

NetApp’s offerings may be the least restrictive because they allow the use of existing storage and management tools. FlexPod has been called a “reference architecture” as well as a product, but that could be a difference in semantics. VCE’s Vblocks may be a little more restrictive than some of the others because they don’t offer anything but VMware.

The overall appeal for converged stacks would seem to be greatest for existing customers of these vendors or those considering them. Most stacks customers are likely to be larger companies, with the exception of Nutanix, which will also appeal to midmarket companies and those that don’t have strong existing relationships with the other players. In the end, all the stacks vendors offer similar value propositions of reduced complexity, accelerated implementation and one-call support.

BIO: Eric Slack is a senior analyst at Storage Switzerland.

This was first published in February 2012

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