I'm taking a break from morbidly watching the global economy reverberate, as I saw an interesting item pop up in email a few hours ago.
I should really leave this one alone, but I can't. I find it just too amusing at a certain level.
Where To Start?
I think everyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I have ongoing issues with NetApp's general conduct in the marketplace. It's more than just a a competitive thing, And I think most readers followed the recent usable capacity debate from a while back.
Now, both themes have come together in an entirely new offer from the good people at NetApp with a grabbing headline: "50% Less Storage For Virtual Environments Guarantee".
Since I'm perhaps too close to all of this, I'd invite your esteemed opinion as to whether this is a truly useful offer, or yet another gimmicky marketing stunt from NetApp.
The structure of the deal is that you'll presumably use 50% less storage in certain virtualized environments, and -- if you don't -- NetApp will give you extra storage to "make good".
If I wasn't such a storage geek, I'd be tempted to think "wow, what a great deal!".
But then I went looking through the details, caveats and exclusions, and came away thinking that this was the kind of promotion targeted at IT buyers who might not have the time to read the fine print.
Personally, I detest marketing initiatives that prey on people's lack of familiarity with certain topics.
So, what's my beef? Go look at the fine print.
-- You must use RAID 6 as compared to "traditional" RAID 10. Now, we can argue about the pros and cons of each, but most storage people would not consider them directly equivalent in terms of protection or performance. Never mind that you can get RAID 6 on all sorts of storage arrays today.
-- No databases, email servers or other transactional applications need apply. Wow. That's a whole lot of VMware use cases that are not part of this "guarantee".
-- No more than 10% of data that can't be easily compressed -- jpgs, powerpoints, XML data, etc. There goes a lot of the files people actually use.
-- You have to be willing to dedupe primary storage. That's a can of worms in itself, isn't it? Not to mention that it's a post-processing scheme, so you'll need extra storage lying around for that as well, which presumably doesn't count as part of the offer.
-- No snap reserves, or -- at least -- no counting any space you set aside for snap reserves.
-- must use thin provisioning without LUN reservations. Never mind that this is a pretty common feature on many storage arrays today. And there's no counting any space you might have around to protect yourself against running out of space.
-- excludes performance-sensitive environments that might require a certain number of spindles.
-- You need 10 or more virtual machines doing pretty much the same thing, all in the same flexvol. Not clear how one measures this, or if you exclude everything above, whether this is even close to a realistic situation.
-- full suite of NetApp pre and post services required
-- detailed claim process if you think you haven't achieved your 50% space savings.
-- the proposed remediation is extra drives to "make good". No mention on extra shelf space, power, cooling, etc.
I could go on, but by now you might guess why I'm sharing this with you.
I feel like I'm watching one of those local TV ads watching Crazy Eddy peddling used cars on Sunday morning.
If You Don't Mind, A Couple Of Questions
- First, do you think this is a serious offer that has economic merit?
- Second, do you think this is a serious offer with technical merit?
- Third, do you think that a significant number of customers could benefit from the "guarantee" as presented?
I'd be interested in any and all opinions -- that is, from people other than NetApp employees.
[update: some of the bloggers at NetApp took this last comment *very* personally. I guess I mis-spoke. I'm sorry. Of course, I'd like to hear from them, as would we all. I had no doubt they'd react vigorously as they always do, I just wanted to hear from other people on this one. And I have, so thank you!]
What I Think
I do have my opinions, don't I?
I think that NetApp is under the gun for historical poor space utilization. We can argue about what NetApp is doing today, but many people will attest that they've got a lot of filers out there with very poor space utilization.
Past sins are coming back to haunt them.
I also think that NetApp is losing the battle for VMware storage "mindshare" against EMC and others. If you were at VMworld, you probably saw this to a certain extent. If you subscribe to all the market share feeds like I do, you'd also be seeing the effect.
Put the two together, and you have the "perfect" marketing promotion, don't you?
Just like a political campaign, the candidates try to highlight the differences in their approaches. Let me highlight a key philisophical difference here: if someone at EMC were to propose this kind of marketing stunt, I'd do everything in my power to shut it down as a Really Bad Idea.
Why? Because it doesn't do most customers any real good, if you think about it. Sure, it's an attention grabber -- I'll give them that -- but, to me, it says a lot about how they view their prospective customers.
And that view is not too flattering, IMHO.
Update (later in the day)
I had a few moments today, so I went over to Nick Triantos' blog at NetApp, who was touting the new program as expected. And it was an interesting (though civil) discussion, to be sure.
Nick's first claim was that RAID-DP was equivalent to RAID 10 in terms of performance, and offered up his homegrown SPC-1 results as proof.
I countered that wasn't a reasonable position, as follows: take any decent workload on 8 spindles. Now add two to get RAID 6, for a total of 10 spindles. Take that same workload and run it on 16 spindles as you would with RAID 10.
I find it very hard to believe that the performance would be equivalent, don't you? A similar argument could be constructed around availability, but that's not even fun to do.
Nick's second point is that "NetApp stands behind its guarantee" and "we're putting our money where our mouth is" and similar aggressive-sounding statements.
I offered that, given the long list of caveats, exceptions and other wormholes, there isn't a whole lot left to stand behind. I also mentioned that I was just waiting for the press release in a few months that NetApp had never had to pay up on its "guarantee"!
I pointed out that a lot of standard arrays support things like RAID 6 and virtual (thin) provisioning. What's the big deal here?
So it must all be about the dedupe of primary storage. Unless of course we're talking about database, emails, powerpoints, images, XML files, busy data and much more that's "excluded". And, of course, any environment desiring some level of performance.
Funny thing, though. Take any 50 application environments. Virtualize them. The data is pretty much the same, right? So why is this only available on virtualized environments? Seems to me that it would work pretty much the same (except for a long list of caveats) on physical and virtual environments.
Nick, in a moment of probable testosterone poisoning, challenged EMC to a similar "guarantee".
Despite the fact that EMC abhors this sort of gimmick, I offered that for many years EMC has offered a storage optimization service where we come in and look at process and procedure with the goal of reclaiming underutilized storage. Sometimes we do this on the basis that we'll find more storage savings than the service costs, so you don't pay unless we find the pony.
The ground rules for this is that we can't harm service levels, or availability levels, or force IT into dramatically new processes. I should point out that EMC does this on anyone's equipment (EMC and others) and does this on equipment of any vintage, not just brand new boxes sold after September 30th, 2008.
I also noticed that the broader NetApp Blogging and Cheerleading Corps (NBCC) have strangely not picked up on this, reinforcing my belief that this sort of "marketing promotion" (I'm being kind here) was not endorsed by the broader technical community.
And, While I'm At It
Larry Ellison's announcement at Oracle getting into the storage biz resulted in many industry tongues wagging as to whether all of us storage guys should be watching our back. Trust me, if you've been in this business as long as we have, you're always watching your back.
Someone sent me some interesting math based on the published pricing for this particular specialized storage device. Please take this with a large grain of salt, since we're talking list prices, and there's not a ton of detail as to how the configuration splits out.
That being said, it looks to be about $4/GB raw, $8/GB usable. Wow.
But the real gem is the software pricing, which looks like $10/GB raw, $20/GB usable. Double wow.
Draw your own conclusions. My take is that (a) they're not entirely serious at these prices, at least from a storage perspective (b) this is a purely defensive move against folks like Teradata and Netezza, albeit an ineffective one, and (c) you can see where Oracle wants to put the value: in software.
I give this a few weeks for the post-OOW marketing spin to play out, and it'll most likely sink below the waterline to join past Oracle initiatives in the deep blue sea ...
Courteous comments always welcome!