I try to refrain from poking at other vendors in my work, and in this blog. But sometimes, just sometimes, you hear about something that's so wacky, it just deserves a moment of appreciation by all of us in the industry.
I refer to the recent announcement that the NetApp gateways were now qualified for use with IBM's SVC. See here and here. One way to accurately describe the announcement would be that you now can buy one storage virtualization device (the NetApp gateway) on top of another (IBM's SVC).
I don't think we'll get a replay of the Sony PS3 situation with long lines at retailers near you. So why did they do this?
A bit more detail
NetApp's gateways are virtualization devices. Plug some storage in the back, and you're free to present it as either files or blocks, depending on your need.
IBM's SVC (storage virtual controller?) is a virtualization device. Plug some storage in the back, and you can present it as blocks -- virtualized, of course.
So why would anyone need both at the same time?
It gets even weirder ...
Both devices are very similar architecturally -- both are x86-ish dual-controller designs, both have roughly the same performance envelope. They're not twins, but you can see the family resemblance.
Both devices have the standard storage virtualization management issue: e.g. instead of having just storage and servers to deal with, you now have a new layer that has to be managed as well.
If you think about it for a second, you've now added a fourth layer of devices to manage: the servers, the NetApp gateway, the IBM SVC, as well as any native management on the actual storage device. My head hurts just thinking about it.
Both have the standard "bump in the wire" performance issue at scale. Since they're appliances, they have to terminate every I/O that comes to them, process each, turn around and reinitiate the I/O back to the SAN.
[If you ever want to make one of these vendors uncomfortable, ask for a "before" and "after" performance characterization -- here's the performance before we put the bump in the wire, here's the performance after we added the bump. Hint: the numbers will not be the same ...]
Trust me, a SAN doesn't run any faster with an appliance-based bump in the wire, and it certainly won't run any faster with two of them.
Not only that, this approach is expensive, not only for customers, but for IBM and perhaps NetApp.
Qualification of any SAN device that sits in a network -- appliance or otherwise -- is expensive and difficult. We know, we do a bunch of that work. Virtualization devices can be even harder to qualify. And here we've got one virtualization device sitting on top of another -- somewhere, there was an engineering team that had to put an exceptional level of effort into qualifying this combination -- and that ain't cheap.
Not only that, providing enterprise-class customer support for this combination is going to require some special investments in skills, processes and not to mention a lab or two that has all this stuff running in it.
I don't think it's going to be cheap for customers either. These appliances aren't necessarily bargains, and using two of them together makes things very expensive indeed.
So, why did they do this?
Maybe it was done for optics. IBM has agreed to resell NTAP products, and it just wouldn't do to have a NetApp gateway not be qualified with IBM's "flagship" SVC. OK, now you can tell a complete story, folks, but I think it'll be difficult to explain this bit to customers (or anyone else with a bit of background in this business)
Maybe it was done defensively. Maybe smart IBM customers figured out that if they bought a NetApp filer, they really didn't need an SVC. Don't think this one will play out, though.
Maybe it was done to attack EMC's base. Between DMX and CLARiiON, EMC has most of the storage footprint out there, and one way to attack it is to try and virtualize it. NetApp could never find a way to pay for the investment to qualify and support their gateways on EMC storage -- it's an expensive proposition. To this day, NetApp doesn't support their gateways on EMC products.
IBM bit the bullet a while back and invested in qualifying SVC with EMC storage products. It had to cost them a boatload to do this. Hasn't exactly been a popular proposition in the marketplace, so I don't know whether they consider this a good investment or not.
Could be that a few marketing geniuses said "hey, we'll use the work we've done with SVC to sell NetApp gateways to the EMC base". Yes, they can now say that, but I for one don't want to be the marketing guy who has to present this "solution" to a customer.
One thing is very clear to me. It wasn't done with customers in mind. And I've learned the hard way over my career is that every proposition has to answer the same hard question: how will this benefit customers in a new or unique way?
And, despite my entrenched biases given that I work at EMC, I just don't get it.