September 6th, 2013 by Brian Beeler
Who Fears the EMC VNX2? Everyone.
I'm back in our Cincinnati-based lab after an insanely brief visit to Milan this week for EMC's much anticipated but hardly secretive launch of the "new VNX" and product updates, launches and so on. VNX2 was the highlight of the show of course, well, that and a menagerie of Formula 1 race cars from Lotus and EMC - five in all at the event. What's interesting though about the new VNX is how much its release shifts the balance of power in the enterprise storage market. VNX is squarely aimed at what EMC calls midmarket; which generally describes the SMB through SME space that needs a unified storage platform. While already the largest storage vendor in the world, EMC has shown vulnerability in a few areas. At the lower edges of the midmarket space NAS vendors and second-tier hybrid storage startups have been able to win sales on a price/performance basis. Through the rest of the line the typical big brands that compete with larger-scale unified storage offerings have edged in cases due to the lack of power in the old VNX platforms and their inability to scale well with flash. In many ways then the new VNX not only reinforces EMC's defensive position at top by dramatically improving performance but the new VNX is also designed as an attack on those who have been showing some success in the lower end SMB space. The VNX launch answers one very important question...who should be scared in the enterprise storage space?
The answer of course, as no so subtly implied in the title, is everyone. Here's an inside peak at the machinations going on all last week and even up to the final hours before the launch in Milan. As EMC customers and prospects were told to hold on a bit before ordering a current VNX and some long-time loyal EMC accounts had early access to the new gear, details leaked out about what was to come. Our StorageReview inboxes were then hit with "but, but, but" emails from no less than half a dozen storage companies ranging from the name brand big companies to some very much smaller. All fight EMC on some level throughout the VNX and VNXe storage platforms. The tone and messaging of the emails was roughly the same however. "They have new unproven code." "The move to a new VNX requires a forklift upgrade." "EMC's slow, we've been doing this forever." "EMC is expensive." Here's the fun part; those statements are all true but in the end, it probably doesn't matter.
Unproven Code - True, there is a huge stack for VNX and the new lines are unproven. All code by its nature is unproven until it is though. The new VNX has been in the field with beta customers for some time now and oh by the way, EMC spent $695 million on R&D (ycharts) last quarter. Sure there will be problems that need to be patched, that's the nature of software. The company on pace for a nearly $3 billion annual run rate R&D spend seems like a good place to put some level of trust.
Forklift - True, EMC isn't offering a path for VNX5300 owners to be instant owners of VNX5400 via software download. That is a bit of a drag, it would have been nice to enable the new features on older units. That said, it's just the controller that needs to be forklifted, and even in that case the old VNX can often be redeployed for some other less critical task. Storage capacity rarely gets retired until it's no longer capable of handling some duty. We have seen countless environments where much older storage platforms end up becoming the heart of new off-site backup and recovery sites for instance.
EMC's Slow - True, EMC probably should have done this last year, where HP really beat them to the punch in both simplifying the product line and offering a StoreServ (3PAR) solution for under $20k. And yes, the tier-two vendors have had SSD caching or tiering in various flavors that was more effective in many cases than the prior VNX for a long time. That doesn't matter now though, VNX2 is here and it performs in some cases 4X faster than the prior systems, with VM capacity 6X more thanks to post-processing de-dupe (yes, no inline de-dupe is a complaint as well). While those "independent results" that EMC quotes aren't really, Citi was on hand in Milan to talk about their experiences where they saw 100% or more improvements in many workloads when comparing old to new. A little fuzzy but there's no doubt EMC's MCx technology, which lets it take advantage of multicore processors, and the proper inclusion of flash makes VNX2 much much faster and for roughly the same price (or less if you have highly duplicated files like in VDI). Incidentally EMC also has a VNX starting under $20k which shows they're ready to battle for the lower-end SMB space.
EMC is Expensive - True/False depending on your perspective. As noted, all of the new VNX features can be had in a box starting at roughly $20k, while implementations could scale into the hundreds of thousands. And yes, there are support contracts that cost money and the markup on drives is huge. That said, they offer tremendous service and support and as one customer said to me recently, "If something goes wrong, I can drive to their local office in 10 minutes and strangle a VP." Customers I talked to at the event have also found tremendous personnel savings with the addition of ViPR and other software tools that EMC sells, which makes management of storage more automated and self-service for application owners. Ease of ownership must be factored into the cost conversation. As we've said before, EMC is now a software company, regardless of how many physical boxes they sell.
The list of grievances from the competition goes on but as noted they're mostly true and mostly don't matter. EMC has wisely released material updates to VNX to ensure they retain the #1 spot in enterprise storage. To beat EMC the other guys are going to have to continue making the offerings simple, easy to deploy and easy to manage. HP, Dell and NetApp are doing a good job of that in many cases as we've seen hands on. It remains to be seen though how the second-tier and specialized storage vendors shift their message to compete against these re-imagined midrange storage offerings.