I’m a big fan of hybrid storage arrays and see them as an ideal way for organizations on the cusp of performance-related issues to move into what I believe will be the mainstream storage market for the next few years.
While the hybrid storage space is swarming with startups and slightly older startups that are staking their ground, even traditional players are looking at this space with interest, and with good reason: Hybrid storage arrays handily and economically fill the gap between hard disk-based storage and pricey all-flash arrays.
Risks in a startup...
When I’m not writing, I’m doing a whole lot of technology consulting, and I continue to interact with CIOs on a regular basis, so I get a pretty good feel for what they’re doing and thinking. I also spent 10 years as a CIO, so I understand the challenges inherent in the position, and I also truly understand the phrase “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.”
This is the phrase one is likely to hear when there is concern from a buyer about the long-term viability of a company and when there is uncertainty regarding the features and quality of the products that a company puts out. These are concerns that often face startups. For the hybrid market, this situation is exacerbated by confusion about the very nature of hybrid storage. After all, hybrid storage is still a relatively young space.
And, the risks are real. Not all startups are created equal! CIOs need to study the history of the company’s founders carefully and perform even more due diligence than might be necessary with a tier 1 vendor. For those who have made the decision to consider a startup, I always recommend looking at other companies started by the founders and how they handled those ventures when they eventually folded or were bought out. If the previous companies were bought out, how were customers treated in the transition? Were the founders simply out for the big payday, or did customer satisfaction continue to be a concern, even when big money was on the table? Remember: History tends to repeat itself.
With startups, it’s also a bit more difficult to understand the long-term viability of the company. The hope, of course, is that the company products will permanently remain available, whether that’s through organic standalone growth or an acquisition. Unfortunately, there’s always the risk that a startup simply doesn’t make it, at which point the investment could be in danger since the technology will likely become unsupported.
For those concerned about startup risk, look for these areas:
- References: What do current customers think of the product and the company?
- Funding: Is the company well-funded or is there enough business to sustain operations and innovation?
- Awards: Is the company gaining mindshare through awards from industry peers?
- Analyst recommendation: How do analysts feel about the long-term viability of the company?
...Offset by potential rewards
Yes,moving ahead with a startup has risks, but it also has the potential for significant rewards, especially from startups that seem poised to succeed in the long-term. These “late stage" startups that have already proven themselves and, if necessary, could stand alone for the long term while continuing to innovate. The risk of them simply going under is relatively small, and they have a growing sales force and an expanding technical support focus. Further, they have at least some kind of a product success history.
Those items can go a long way toward appeasing CIO concerns about the stability of the company, and they can provide several benefits:
- New thinking: Startup storage players are thinking differently about storage and creating new solutions that jettison legacy thinking in favor of new ways of accomplishing goals.
- Better pricing: These players have much less overhead than their tier 1 brethren and can afford to sell arrays at a lower price. On the flip side, make sure that your vendor isn’t skimping in a critical area to achieve those lower prices!
- Great feature set: Today’s arrays from the likes of Nimble, Tegile, and Tintri – three major players in the hybrid space – ship with a feature set that doesn’t nickel and dime the customer. Want dedupe? They do it without additional licensing costs. That said, each vendor has implemented its feature set somewhat differently, so it’s still important to compare what each brings to the table to make sure you know exactly how each feature works.
- Constant stream of new features that customers want: Because these companies are relatively new but also relatively established, they all listen to customers and continue to add features that customers want. More often than not, these new features are also provided – for free – to existing customers. So, even after the sale, customers continue to gain value.
New workloads = new value
One of the great secrets to hybrid storage is that additional value can be unlocked over time by adding new kinds of workloads to the storage. Why? As you move workloads from traditional arrays, you’re adding these workloads to a device that has the capability of accelerating them beyond what was ever possible with a traditional array.
So, perhaps a hybrid array is purchased for a VDI project, but the VDI project isn’t pushing the array to its limits, so it has excess I/O and storage capacity. Move your databases to the array, too. Most hybrid arrays do a tremendous job of providing the administrator with deep insight into how workloads are performing, so an analysis can be performed to prevent negative impacts to any of the workloads.
Same array, new value. This is one of the things that I really like about the current hybrid market. It provides significant opportunity to push these devices to their limits and really unlock tremendous performance gains for what could be suffering workloads.
Action Item: CIOs looking for storage need to perform a careful risk assessment to ensure that a startup player is a good choice for their needs and make sure to consider all factors – good and bad. Once the decision is made to move in this direction, embrace it, extend it and move as much as reasonable to the new environment to continue to add value to the purchase.
Footnotes: Also see Wikibon's research, Hybrid Storage Poised to Disrupt Traditional Disk Arrays