Last of the storage independents

A recent flurry of storage acquisitions (consuming 3PAR, Isilon, Compellent, and others) leaves enterprises few remaining alternatives to the largest vendors.

A recent frenzy of storage acquisitions--with 3PAR going to HP, Isilon to EMC, and now Compellent to Dell--brings storage full-circle. Your next enterprise storage purchase? Almost guaranteed to be from a leviathan.

One of the once-amazing changes in the computer business was the birth of independent storage vendors. For decades there've been a few odd after-market and third-party storage vendors. But they were mere pilot fish congregating around the truly big, important swimmers: systems vendors. When you bought storage, it generally came from the same company that made your computer. That was the natural order.

Spoof of The Pretender's album, Last of the Independents

But in the 1990s, companies like EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and NetApp--along with a few others that are either no longer in business, or since have been acquired--changed all that. They crafted interesting products and maneuvered around the incumbent system vendors, convincing IT customers that storage was an independent entity that was appropriate to purchase separately. It wasn't just storage, of course; the era of standards, openness, networking, and horizontal ecosystems was arriving across IT, opening pretty much every purchase to at least the possibility of third-party competition.

Over time, "networked storage" and "consider buying from someone other than the system vendor" became the norm. EMC, HDS, and NetApp rode the wave, becoming multibillion dollar enterprises and resolutely part of IT's established order. While not systems vendors per se, they're of comparable scale and favor.

While EMC and NetApp were busy growing into titans, numerous start-ups arose in their stead. Systems vendors simultaneously developed their own networked, "open"/multi-vendor storage products--and/or cut to the chase by acquiring one of the start-ups. Consider storage devices. HP now has 3PAR and LeftHand Networks; IBM has XIV; Dell has EqualLogic, and soon, Compellent; EMC recently snagged Isilon. And these are just the most notable and recent buys.

Honestly, who's left? Few of any size or scale.

It's the same in storage software. Take cluster/global file systems such as Lustre, PolyServe, Sistina, and LSC's QFS. You find a long list of what used to be thought of as leading independent options--except they're no longer independent. They've been absorbed, sometimes for the product, but more often to gain access to technology, patents, and talent. If you look at storage networking, storage virtualization, storage resource management, and related areas, you find the same. The independents of any scale or note have been acquired and absorbed.

"Open up" and "consider the options" were the ethos of the 1990s. That was reflected in many vendors and diverse product sets. Today, IT customers haven't given up on "open" and "standards-driven," but we've moved resolutely beyond "let a thousand flowers bloom." We're now focused on "consolidate" and "integrate." The storage landscape reflects that. Indeed, the behemoth infrastructure vendors have acquired so regularly and systematically that few storage independents remain.

 

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