The Winds of Change

My reason for writing this article is that a wind of change is blowing through the storage market. The success of cloud storage such as Amazon S3 and Syncplicity has opened the way to new methods of archiving, making backups, and even disaster recovery. But the biggest disruptor is of course flash memory, and more specifically PCIe SSDs.

PCIe SSDs are not bandwidth limited by the SATA/SAS wiring and (if implemented well) protocol overhead. As a result, PCIe drives have up to three times as many channels of flash memory. And well-designed PCIe SSDs do not have to carry the burden of RAID controllers and protocols that were architectured for hard drives with completely different characteristics than flash memory. But even if they use a PCIe/SAS bridge, PCIe SSDs offer higher reliability and vastly superior performance than the best enterprise drives. But there is much more going on.

As PCIe SSDs offer large capacities (up to 10TB!) and performance in a very small form factor, they open new markets. It is interesting to see the completely new solutions that are now available, solutions that are much better suited for certain workloads. One example of a workload where traditional SANs fall short is virtual desktops.

Virtual Desktops

Virtual desktops like Xendesktop or VMware View have been promising significant energy and cost savings, but these savings almost never materialize in reality. The energy saving claims made a few years ago were ridiculous; they were based on the assumption that we are still using power hogging desktops. Replace those with thin clients and you magically get massive energy savings.

The reality is that most of the IT professionals already use a 20-30W portable instead of an old 150W desktop, and the extra server load was not helping save energy either. Even if portables were not used, many business desktops today sip small amounts of energy. And if there was any miraculous energy saving, the additional complex storage system would be the final blow. The end result of desktop virtualization is often higher instead of lower energy bills. But perhaps worse is that knowledge workers hated most of the virtual desktops project with a passion. Suddenly several actions that used to complete without any noticeable response time became laggy.

Although there were serious costs savings if your desktop deployment and management was just organized chaos, every organization that replaced PCs with virtual desktops faced the need for huge investments. As lots of people boot up their virtual desktop in the morning, massive amounts of data is written and read in a rather random way: the so called “boot storm”. The solution was to boot up the desktops in a staggered way, tens of minutes before the arrival of the users, and to perform all kinds of special optimizations all over the software stack. But that is hardly more than a band-aid: what about unexpected hot fix patches, or what if people arrive a little bit earlier on occasion?

Data source: NetApp News 2013

Astute readers understand that the administration of virtual desktops is quite a bit more complex than the traditional setup with roaming profiles and saving files on a centralized file server. Only the most recent and high-end SANs could really deal with these specific requirements. Granted, some of the essential storage tasks like backup and archiving are a lot easier once you have a SAN in place… but mostly after you have invested in all kinds of expensive management software. When you start to invest in a complex SAN platform, the costs seem to multiply like rabbits.

In short, although a fast SAN seemed to be an enabler, they were also a deal breaker in the virtual desktop world. They're too slow and/or too expensive, and they're also power hungry.

Several companies feel they have a much better alternative and it is very interesting to see how the Fusion–IO and Intel PCIe SSDs are being turned into innovative and specialized alternatives for the typical SAN solution. Let's discuss a few of these over the next several pages.

Introduction: Enterprise Storage 101 Nutanix: No More SAN
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  • pjkenned - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    Hi Johan, one thing to be clear about is that the dollars you are quoting in this article are off by a huge margin. Enterprise storage is one of the most highly discounted areas of technology. Happy to chat more on this subject. Patrick @STH
  • name99 - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    Ahh, the never-ending whine of the Enterprise sale man, who desperately wants to have it both ways --- to be able to charge a fortune and simultaneously to claim that he's not charging a fortune. Good luck with that --- there is, after all, a sucker born every minute.

    But let's get one thing straight here. If your organization refuses to publish the actual prices at which it sells, then you STFU when people report the prices that ARE published, not the magic secret prices that you claim exist but neither you nor anyone else are ever allowed to actually mention them. You don't get to have it both ways.
    AnandTech and similar blogs are not in the business of sustaining your obsolete business model and its never-ending lies about price...
  • enealDC - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    Thank you!!! lol
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    You can not blame a company to do whatever they can to protect their business model, but your comment is on target. The list versus street price models reminds of techniques of salesman on the street in touristic areas: they charge 3 times too much, and you end up with a 50% discount. The end result is that you are still ripped off unless you have intimate knowledge.
  • nafhan - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    My experience with stuff like this is that the low prices are geared towards locking you into their products and getting themselves in the door. As soon as these companies feel certain that changing to a different storage tech would be prohibitively expensive for you, the contract renewal price will go through the roof.

    In other words, that initial price may actually be very good and very competitive. Just don't expect to get the same deal when things come up for contract renewal.
  • equals42 - Saturday, August 17, 2013 - link

    You shouldn't be making enterprise purchasing decisions unless you have intimate knowledge and have done the necessary research.
  • pjkenned - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    So three perspectives:

    First - I have been advocating open storage projects for years. I do think we are moving to 90%+ of the market being 4TB drives and SSDs and SDS is a clear step in this direction. I don't sell storage but have been using open platforms for years precisely because of the value I can extract through the effort of sizing the underlying hardware.

    Second - Most of the big vendors are public companies. It isn't hard to look at gross margin and figure out ballpark what average discounts are. Most organizations purchasing this type of storage have other needs. The market could push for lower margins so my sense is that the companies buying this class of storage are not just paying for raw storage.

    Third - vendors are moving the direction of lower discounts at the low end. Published list prices there are much closer to actual as the discounting trend in the industry is towards lower list prices.

    Not to say that pricing is just or logical, but then again, it is a large industry that is poised for a disruptive change. One key thing here is that I believe you can get pricing if you just get a quote. This is the same as other enterprise segments such as the ERP market.
  • equals42 - Saturday, August 17, 2013 - link

    I'll not ask you to STFU as you eloquently abbreviated it. Though in general I believe people ultimately charge what they believe the market will pay.

    Yes, list prices are generously overpriced in the IT industry. But to ask EMC or IBM to tell you how much they really charge for things is stupid. That's a negotiated rate between them and their customer. BofA or WalMart isn't going to disclose how much they pay for services. Their low negotiated price helps drive efficiencies to better compete with rivals. Heck, ask Kelloggs how much Target pays per box for cereal vs WalMart. No way in hell they're going to tell you. You think a SMB is going to get the same price as Savvis or Bank of America? They can ask for it but good luck. I sense some naiveté in your response.

    In essence you're complaining about how inflated the list is vs what the average customer pays. That's a game played out based on supply and demand, market expectations and the blended costs of delivering products.
  • prime2515103 - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    "Note that the study does not mention the percentage customer stuck in denial :-)."

    I don't mean to be a jerk or anything, but I can't believe I just read that on Anandtech. It's not the grammar either. A smiley? Good grief...
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, August 6, 2013 - link

    I fixed the sentence, but left the smiley in there. My prerogative ;-)

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