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EMC, NetApp clash over VMware

There are lots of interesting donnybrooks going on in this industry at any one moment, but EMC-NetApp is like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry: imbued with a sense of historical inevitability, and capable of reaching heretofore undiscovered levels of bickering.

The latest series of skirmishes takes place on one of the most hotly contested battlefields of storage today–VMware. Specifically, the integration with, support of, and general glomming on to the server virtualziation giant’s software.

There was a time when I would’ve guessed NetApp was the most-installed storage system with VMware, especially as VMware over NFS took hold at least in some enterprise shops. Server administrators and application admins were already familiar with running databases over NFS, and NetApp’s NFS was generally considered the best. Plus, NetApp has the whole multiprotocol thing going on with iSCSI and NFS in the same system, built in data protection tools, etc.

Not so, says EMC, triumphantly waving a newly released report from Forrester Research:

EMC…has been cited as “the most prevalent storage vendor in their overall environments” according to a survey of 124 global IT decision-makers currently using x86 server virtualization technology. The January 2009 report titled Storage Choices For Virtual Server Environments also revealed that 98 percent of the 124 survey respondents were using VMware ESX in their virtual server environments, and that 78 percent have virtual server technology in use for production application workloads.

According to the survey, 48 percent of respondents chose EMC as their brand of networked storage for virtual servers – nearly two times as many as the next closest vendor, IBM. Additionally, 63 percent of the respondents prefer to buy from a single storage vendor, which illustrates that buyers show a preference for working with a single storage vendor.

Furthermore, the report states:

There is little correlation between vendor and protocol selection. Surprisingly, there is not
a strong pattern linking the choice of vendor to the preferred protocol. Even NetApp, with its
strong heritage in file storage and ability to offer in-depth best practices for NFS in virtual server
environments, still shows a prevalence of FC — NFS is the least common option. This is due
to the following: 1) VMware did not add support for iSCSI and NFS until ESX Server 3.0; 2)
storage vendors are generally protocol-agnostic — they support and recommend all available
protocols; and 3) customers are often unwilling to diverge from what they know and use already.

This is also the case when it comes to storage vendors in general–companies generally don’t buy new storage systems or try new technologies just for to support VMware, the report finds. More than half (53%) of the users surveyed were using EMC. That’s a much higher EMC sample than the 28% networked storage market share EMC had in the most recent IDC’s quarterly storage report.

Besides the disproportionately high number of EMC customers surveyed and relatively small overall sample of 124 users, the Forrester report also discloses that “in terms of industry, financial services and insurance is the most prevalent, with 41% of respondents.” Both of those verticals tend to favor EMC.

According to Forrester’s survey, 25% were using IBM with virutal servers followed by NetApp at 24% and Hewlett-Packard at 23%. I’m curious how many of the systems counted as IBM in the study are N-Series, which is NetApp under the covers.

Meanwhile, NetApp is not pulling any punches, continuing its VMware space-efficiency guarantee, this time extending it, as it did its primary storage data deduplication capabilities, to V-Series. That means it’s essentially offering a guarantee on third party storage from EMC, IBM, HP and Hitachi Data Systems fronted by a NetApp head.

Not everybody in the industry was impressed with the VMware guarantee. The guarantee is highly conditional, making it highly unlikely that NetApp would ever have to pay off.

As for applying NetApp services to third-party storage, the Forrester report seems to suggest that most users tend not to have more than one vendor in their environment, let alone attaching one vendor’s system to another’s. Can you imagine the finger-pointing if there were an issue?

So. We’re left with a relatively-small-sample-size report skewed toward one vendor on one side, and hollow guarantees on the other.

Oh! And one spoof of the battle scenes in 8 Mile that has to be seen to be believed.

There’s still a lot more ground to be gained and lost this year in the VMware marketplace, and who knows what events might come along to change the industry completely. In the meantime, though, we know there’ll never be a dull moment between the notorious NTAP and E-squared.

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