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Storage Bin 2.0: Ringing in a new storage market

The world of storage is complicated and diverse. But sophisticated users, armed with better research and networking tools than ever before, are finding they don't need one-stop shopping for storage technology.

Don't be alarmed by all the recent industry news; it's a good time for storage consumers.

In 2007, the storage system world had its share of relevant happenings. Isilon Systems went public at the end of 2006, heralding a new era in storage system value and setting the competitive stage for 2007. 3PAR, Compellent and Data Domain generated a ton of capital, gaining credibility with investors and removing risk concerns from customers' minds. Yet these four storage system vendors don't compete with each other. This tells you two things: The storage system market is very diverse and each company has a chance to become a category leader.

Another storage highlight in 2007 was Dell buying EqualLogic. This was more than just a big player acquiring an emerging storage vendor. Dell threw down a gauntlet when it bought EqualLogic, essentially saying "We'll own IP; we'll change our strategy; we'll be bold."

This acquisition eliminates risk for some, but creates it for others. There may be a number of EqualLogic customers that don't want to buy from Dell because they standardized on Hewlett-Packard (HP) or IBM. There are some EqualLogic channel partners that may be groaning because they've spent years competing against Dell. Other customers may simply be concerned that EqualLogic will become lost within the giant Dell. On the other hand, Dell has the brand, resources and reach to take EqualLogic faster and further than if the smaller company was left alone. Dell shouldn't only respond to markets but create them--and with EqualLogic, Dell is paving the way for the evolving small- to medium-sized storage market.

Dell's purchase of EqualLogic has other ramifications for the industry. First, it further elevates iSCSI as a viable alternative to Fibre Channel (FC). Is FC dead? Not at all, but don't be surprised to see iSCSI surpass FC as the dominant SAN interconnect over the next few years. Second, the Dell supply chain can probably increase EqualLogic's 65% gross margins by another five to 10 points. This gives Dell powerful economic leverage and puts more stress on the competition, which could affect the entire storage landscape.

There are a handful of other storage system vendors, including BlueArc, Copan Systems, DataDirect Technologies, Diligent Technologies, LeftHand Networks, Pillar Data Systems, OnStor and Sepaton, that will probably be acquired or go public in 2008. As these vendors and others try to elevate themselves to the next level, we'll begin to see overlap and turf wars for category dominance.

Dell, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, IBM, Network Appliance and Sun Microsystems--the seven billionaires of storage--are all impacted by the changing storage landscape. While a few of the big seven may scoop up some of the smaller, emerging vendors, massive consolidation in the storage system market won't happen any time soon. In fact, it may never happen. That's because storage is complicated and diverse, and sophisticated customers, using better research and networking tools than ever before, understand they don't need one-stop shopping for storage technology. Those vendors who understand this new world order will benefit.

How do you as a customer make the right decision? My answer is to remember that you're in the driver's seat, and this is a great time to be in the market for a storage system product. So negotiate intelligently and apply your leverage as a coveted storage customer. One of your biggest problems may be having too many viable choices. In the grand scheme of things, that's a pretty good problem to have.

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