This week at EMC World 2015, EMC announced the intention to open source or offer free downloads for a number of their recent software acquisitions, most notably ScaleIO and ViPR. ScaleIO was acquired in 2013 for around $300 million, ViPR is a mixture of iWave Software (acquired 2013) and other EMC intellectual property developed internally by the company.

ScaleIO allows standard servers (bare metal or virtualised) to be transformed into storage providers, with other servers acting as storage consumers.  This configuration creates a mesh of consumers and providers, implementing a scale out storage solution based entirely in software. Core parts of the ScaleIO technology is also integrated into the VMware ESXi kernel.  Although the product sounds great as a science project, I suspect EMC have had trouble explaining to customers exactly how to make use of ScaleIO in their environment.  ScaleIO was therefore packaged as ECS (Elastic Cloud Storage) and touted as being cheaper than public cloud, with ViPR as the management software.  I have seen very few announcements or discussion since the initial release of the platform.

ViPR at it’s core is the evolution of technology from iWave Software, which enables customers to create a veneer over the top of their existing hardware products and create a consistent management layer and deployment framework.  The concept is a good one as the iWave Software allowed less skilled admins to manage the provisioning process for storage without needing to have an understanding of the specific configuration.  The software fits well in large organisations and for outsourcers with staff not fully aware of the customer’s specific configuration; not so much for small/medium enterprises.  For EMC, the benefit was obvious; use ViPR to consistently manage a range of disparate storage products, all with unique management GUIs and CLIs.  EMC saw ViPR as the “go-to” product for storage provisioning management and even integrated data services into the portfolio; a distraction that just further complicated the message.

ViPR will be available on Github later this year as CoprHD and is effectively an open-source version of the ViPR platform.  Why would EMC do this?  It’s worth looking at what EMC wanted ViPR to be in the first instance, which was a ubiquitous management platform for all storage in the data centre.  Unfortunately, once outside EMC’s core portfolio of products, I expect they have found no traction in integrating other vendors’ platforms into the software.  The goal appears to be to use the wider community to achieve this, using the open source code which will presumably be integrated back into the core product.  This raises a number of issues around ongoing maintenance and compatibility; imagine 3rd party platform support for (say) HP 3PAR is developed in the open-source community.  How will EMC guarantee to keep up to date on future releases in a timely fashion when updates are based on community “best efforts”?  Who is responsible if the software mis-configures a customer’s data?

On a positive note, EMC are keen to re-invent the company, especially the EMC-II division as they are clearly aware that legacy VMAX & VNX platforms will not sustain them forever.  On that front, they have things right (think how bad things are over at NetApp).  However the execution of this strategy seems to have floundered in the software arena with only XtremIO being successful.  I think customers either don’t need or want ScaleIO; it’s a solution looking for a problem.  With ViPR, centralised management will be superseded by native APIs and direct integration.  ViPR is simply too much overhead for the benefit it provides, unless you are a very large storage consumer.

These announcements show that not even EMC has a magic wand to transfer the company from hardware to software.  There’s still a long journey ahead on the path of re-invention.

Author Notes:

  • When ScaleIO was first released, the company (ScaleIO) refused my request for an evaluation copy.
  • I have extensive experience integrating storage management software across multi-vendor platforms, including responsibility for architecting commercial products.
  • I reviewed iWave Software prior to the acquisition by EMC.
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