In a classic move worthy of The Innovator’s Dilemma, a number of recent announcements by flash and HDD vendors have continued a trend that could have the incumbent shared storage array vendors worried. In December 2014, HGST, a subsidiary of drive manufacturer Western Digital (WD), acquired Skyera, a vendor of all-flash storage solutions. Yesterday, HGST announced it intended to acquire Amplidata, a vendor of object storage solutions. Also announced yesterday, SanDisk released news of their new InfiniFlash platform, a flash-based appliance for analysing Big Data.
Until recently, the storage component vendors (those manufacturing hard drives & SSDs) have been just that – providers of the components that go into larger scale products. Outside their traditional market, at best they have delivered consumer-grade external USB connected drives and some SOHO NAS appliances. Drives (HDDs & SSDs) have become commodity, with thin margins and tight competition. At the same time, scaling hard drives to higher capacities is getting increasingly harder, while flash starts to take out some of the less commercially attractive products such as 15K SAS drives (see this post by Erik Ableson talking about Samsung SSD price parity). The likes of Seagate and WD need another approach to growing their businesses and the most obvious way is to move up the food chain and start producing value-add products such as storage arrays and appliances.
It seems that the starting point chosen by these vendors for attacking the array market is to look at scale-out solutions for object and Big Data, something that the existing big storage vendors are arguably weak at delivering (and so brings the component vendors into the least amount of conflict with their bulk disk-buying customers). Seagate have their ClusterStor platform (see this press release from 2014), WD will have a play based on Amplidata (and whatever they do with Skyera) and SanDisk will deliver their own flash-based solution.
Tackling Big Data and object storage is a natural fit for the drive vendors. Both solutions potentially need masses of hardware with some additional added software to manage and process content. These products aren’t the typical high performance or highly featured solutions reminiscent of high-end enterprise storage arrays that took decades to develop and refine, but they do meet requirements of customers today.
The next question to ask is what the major players intend to do about this evolution of the market. EMC & HDS are already working on applications higher up the “data stack”, while IBM seems to be gradually backing out of the storage business altogether. NetApp appears paralysed and doesn’t know what to do, despite having StorageGRID, an object storage appliance. HP has partnerships with Scality and Cleversafe to sell their solutions on HP servers. This part of the market is certainly one to watch and see how things unfold over the coming months.