Summary:

Rivals love to point out that EMC is late to all-flash storage. But now that it’s shipping its new XtremeIO arrays, that may not matter since EMC is, after all, EMC.

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In one of the industry’s worst-kept secrets, EMC on Thursday is launching solid-state storage arrays resulting from its purchase of XtremIO a year and a half ago.

The initial XtremeIO SKUS  are 10TB boxes, with capacity to double in the first quarter of next year, according to EMC. Basically this is the technology EMC purchased with XtremIO but with added linkages back into the rest of its product stable with “integration points” to  vPlex, PowerPath, vBlocks and Secure Remote Systems and VMware vCenter (via plugins).

EMC touts them as true scale-out storage utilizing multiple controllers that it says will deliver “linear performance increases as capacity in the array grows.”

Late to the party

The company, which leads the league in storage market and mindshare overall, is, in fact, late to all-flash storage — where startups like Pure Storage and Nimbus Data have blazed the trail. Josh Goldstein, VP of marketing and product management for EMC XtremIO, acknowledged that it’s not first to the party but painted that in the best possible light.

“What the other vendors have done is what’s obvious — it’s all about faster media for serving I/O and everyone focuses on how many IOPS they do and how much latency they can drive out,” he said in an interview. But he said XtremIO is doing more than boosting IOPS and bleeding out latency. “The magic is the architecture that lets us do things in virtual data centers you couldn’t do before, the way the array operates when it supports vMotion and clones VMs.”

Flash players typically like to paint the technology as price competitive with older hard drives, but that is not really the case. EMC’s, because it now fields all-flash, hybrid flash-and-spinning-disk, and hard drive technology, isn’t beating that drum. In fact, a spokeswoman wouldn’t talk price at all except to say the new XtremIO arrays “will be priced competitively with other all-flash arrays in the market.” And that whatever price EMC does offer up will include all software features —  there are no separately licensed XtremIO array features, she said. Hmmm.

How much are the new arrays? EMC ain’t saying

So EMC is late to market and it’s not talking price. But it’s good to be king, and it was clear that rivals were concerned enough about this launch to proactively send reporters their side of the story. Dell helpfully posted a white paper painting the Compellent SC8000 as the cheapest all-flash alternative; Hitachi had its own flash launch earlier this week. And IBM offered up executives to talk about why IBM’s “Smarter Storage” game plan is, um, smarter than what EMC is doing.

Wikibon analyst Stuart Miniman said EMC’s scale-out architecture is noteworthy. “Similar to Isilon, EqualLogic and Nutanix, it’s not a single box but how it can grow and be managed very simply. The existing all-flash startups are designed for flash and so provide higher performance but otherwise are deployed and managed very similarly to traditional arrays. HP 3Par has reasonably good scaling which is better than Pure Storage, but XtremIO leads the pack with scalability,” he said.

Mark Peters, analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, said EMC’s messaging of “real IOPS, real consistent” will pique customer interest, but, the bottom line is this: The not-so secret sauce of EMC is that it is EMC, “with all the coverage, comfort and marketing muscle that entails,” he said. “If this launch were of and by an independent XtremIO, the expected outcome would be very different.”

I would tend to agree with that. EMC, even if it does not offer the absolute best technology, will get a hearing because it’s EMC. And in storage, being EMC matters.

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