All-flash is a synonym for a tough market

Startup success not guaranteed

Comment Last week NetApp launched a new line of all-flash arrays (AFAs) called AFF. It’s based on a specialised version of ONTAP, which has added particular optimizations to read/write data paths. It’s not the notorious FlashRay yet, but it’s not that bad and it has something to say... especially if you are already a NetApp customer.

New entrants do it better

There is no doubt we are not talking about the top notch implementation for a flash array. Startups like Pure, Solidfire, Kaminario and others designed their product from the ground up just a few years ago. They started from scratch without constraints and without a legacy to maintain.

They have a modern design, in some cases more scalable, efficient in the way they manage flash, and easier to use. Sometimes they have some particular features that make the difference. If you start building a brand new infrastructure, the advantages can be really relevant and even the worry of working with a startup might vanish!

Unfortunately, in most cases, this isn’t what always happens. Enterprise IT infrastructures are usually already in place, and moving to flash storage is a necessity for just a small part of existing applications that need to be supported by much more predictable, fast and agile storage systems. I’m not talking about pure speed in this case; fast and agile can mean many things, like faster provisioning, faster resource reallocation, faster migrations and so on.

Flash is just a feature

Flash is an enabler for a more agile storage infrastructure, but it’s not the only one. And in many cases infrastructure and organization complexity transform flash into a mere feature.


At the moment, on a capacity basis, only 4 per cent of storage sold is flash. The rest is disk. Four per cent is much less than what is usually deemed to be active data in a traditional enterprise (it runs from 10 to 20 per cent).

It will take some time before flash becomes as important as disk in the data center, and in the meantime a lot of things will happen.

Market landscape has changed

Today the world is hybrid (Flash + HDDs) and tomorrow it will probably be hybrid too (with faster + slower types of memory). Not the single system perhaps, but infrastructures will remain hybrid.

Most storage infrastructure involve various storage tiers (including the cloud), and users want to move data between them seamlessly. The best way to do it is to have the same storage OS and a rich set of features. In fact, some vendors offer different solutions in terms of storage media but with a common set of functionalities and features throughout the entire product line (and NetApp is one of them).

If the project is complex or the flash array has to be integrated into a complex infrastructure, it is easier to adopt a single vendor that can provide a decent solution; the solution you need.

My argument could be countered for smaller infrastructures where complexity is not a major issue, but again, for the user, it could be easier to continue buying from the same vendor if they are satisfied with what is being offered.

Bottom line

Two years ago the all-flash startups were particularly well positioned due to the way they managed flash memory, but now this technology is just common ground for everyone. For example, NetApp now offers a seven-year warranty on flash – a sign of confidence, don’t you think?

These startups maintain the technological leadership, but traditional vendors are catching up very quickly through acquisitions (like EMC and XtremIO) or experience (like NetApp: it says it is pouring its FlashRay experience into ONTAP and AFF).

The gap is closing rapidly, and these startups need to react as fast as they can. They've got to have products capable of serving blocks as well as file or objects, and build integrations (or integrated data services) on top of that.

The market landscape has changed considerably, and it’s really tough now to find a major differentiator. The most interesting vendors are working on analytics to make a difference. Also, primary vendors are looking more at managing data instead of simply storing it.

I can’t really see any of these startups growing as expected by investors and the market, unless they have a broader product line-up to compete toe-to-toe with traditional suppliers. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022