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Storage Bin: EMC's big boost for its competitors

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VMware might be the best thing that's happened to networked storage since, well, networked storage.


So you think EMC bought VMware because it was cheap? At $635 million, it didn't seem cheap at the time; many folks wondered if EMC knew what it was doing or if it was just chucking more garf against the wall to see what stuck.

VMware is worth approximately $10 billion-plus today, so no one is questioning the decision any longer, but that still doesn't explain its real value to storage. EMC is no longer the nemesis; VMware has invigorated our industry.

When people consolidate servers by jamming virtual servers onto the same physical platform, they also move to a network storage architecture. VMware has figured out the recipe to get us to migrate from a DAS world to the networked storage world ... and it had nothing to do with storage.

Many VMware installations are also big SAN and NAS shops (more importantly, many aren't), yet the decision to move to SAN/NAS is never retroactive. Because data growth is never-ending, we found ourselves starting the process with some new app and then constantly adding to the SAN/NAS environment as we learned that it was a smarter way of interconnecting storage to servers vs. having the storage bound to a single physical machine. We've known networked storage has been a better way to go for many years, but until VMware got hot, we allowed a massive percentage of our overall

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data to reside in single-server configurations. Why? Because the server is still the psychological king of the data center.

A server is a processor and memory subsystem that costs approximately $1,000. It's almost a throwaway when compared to today's true big iron--storage. Servers are grossly underutilized and their volume causes tremendous operational problems and inefficiencies. The storage connected to the average server houses data whose value is incalculable. The time and money saved by creating networked storage environments, along with the ability to better protect and deliver our most precious corporate asset--our information--isn't debated anymore. Why won't we move the DAS to a NAS/SAN environment when it's the obvious thing to do? Why does it take a server consolidation to make it happen? We've found the motivation and it's VMware.

I think VMware is brilliant, but I also think it's unoriginal. Storage guys figured out that individually underutilized disks spread all over the place and directly connected to individual machines was dumb approximately 20 years ago. We "consolidated" those drives into large-scale RAID arrays and NAS boxes. We networked those consolidated drives back to the machines that needed them. Isn't VMware doing for servers what storage guys figured out long ago?

As folks move to virtual server environments, they're forced to move to networked storage (or they can't take advantage of any of the VMotion-type features and that would be dumb). This is the catalyst to mass-market adoption of network storage technologies--to extend their use in existing SAN/NAS places and add new opportunities. Because of the virtual server phenomenon, there may be more networked storage implementations within the next year than we've seen in the last 10 years.

So instead of doing the normal EMC bashing, you might want to say thanks. VMware has opened more doors for old and new players than any other movement I can think of over the last decade. And once a door opens, all sorts of things can come in.

This was first published in August 2007

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