Datacenter Trends

EMC's All-Flash Strategy

Many firms are banking on the all-flash database revolution starting now.

There's a big spotlight on Dell's pending acquisition of data storage giant EMC, and rightly so. The acquisition will be one of the largest ever in the U.S. tech sector at an estimated $67 billion, though that estimate has fluctuated since the deal was first announced in October 2015, thanks largely to the volatile stock price of EMC's VMware organization. A shareholder vote on the deal is set for July 19.

But last month's EMC World event in Las Vegas reflected some of that light onto the company's all-flash storage story. EMC president of products and marketing, Jeremy Burton, declared 2016 "the year of all-flash."

Almost certainly one of the things that has made EMC an attractive acquisition target is the sustained and rapid growth of its all-flash storage array, XtremIO, which was launched last year. According to industry analysts at IDC, in 2015 EMC captured about the same market share as the next three competitors combined. According to IDC's recently published Quarterly Enterprise Storage System Tracker, the company snagged a 40.3% market share in Q4 2015, up 4.1% over the previous year. XtremIO generated revenues of more than $1 billion for the year, the company says.

Josh Goldstein, VP of marketing and product Management in EMC's XtremIO business unit, credits "the execution piece" for his company's all-flash market dominance, but allows that timing was also a factor.

"EMC got into the flash game very early," he told me. "We started with hybrid arrays many years ago, and correctly saw that all-flash was coming and going to be much more than just a performance play. The performance is there, of course, but you can do a lot of things in an all-flash architecture that are not feasible in a disk or hybrid architecture."

That architecture has allowed EMC to build a range of services into the XtremIO all-flash array, including a much-lauded capability called Integrated Copy Data Management (iCDM), which allows for the consolidation of primary data and copies on the same scale-out all-flash array.

"Back when started thinking about how we would design the XtremIO array --we're talking 2008 and 2009 -- customers typically had copies of the databases all over the place," Goldstein recalled. "Along with a production instance, they would have at least a handful of copies they were using to develop their application code and test it, to test patches before they went into production, and to provide separate copies for reporting. It had been like that forever. But now here we were, designing an array that would be globally deduplicated. You could make instant copies of things that are on the array without consuming more space just by manipulating the metadata. Because they'd all be on the same array, you could build a workflow around those copies with high performance."

The ability to integrate production and non-production copies of the database offers productivity gains in the application development lifecycle that are driving the adoption of all-flash, Goldstein said.

"People understand the value of the productivity of their engineers," Goldstein said. "That's what has the highest impact on their business. That's where the money is."

Market research firm Neuralytixs believes that the all-flash datacenter is gaining serious ground in enterprise and showing no signs of slowing. In a recently published report, "The Reality of the All Flash Datacenter," the firm estimated that, by 2020, 30 percent of all greenfield projects will adopt all-flash, and existing datacenters will follow, with all-flash accounting for 25 percent of all full storage refresh.


About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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