The IDC AFA MarketScape evaluated 10 vendors' enterprise storage platforms on their ability to meet requirements for dense mixed workload consolidation that includes at least some mission-critical applications. In this rapidly maturing market, there is still much to differentiate vendors. This document should provide food for thought for both customers and vendors alike.
In mid-December, IDC released the IDC MarketScape: Worldwide All-Flash Array 2017 Vendor Assessment (IDC, December 2017). Given the state of market maturity in the AFA space, it was necessary to narrowly focus assessment to arrays that were specifically sold for dense mixed workload consolidation that included at least some mission-critical applications. Many AFA vendors now have a broad portfolio of AFA platforms, targeting each at different types of workloads and customers. Other market targets not evaluated in this IDC AFA MarketScape include dedicated application use (e.g. IBM FlashSystem 900, Dell EMC XtremIO), next generation webscale workloads (e.g. NetApp SolidFire), scale-out unstructured workloads (e.g. Dell EMC Isilon F800, Pure Storage FlashBlade), and all-flash caching appliances (Avere Systems FXT Edge Filers, DDN Infinite Memory Engine). The dense mixed workload consolidation usage was chosen because it drives more AFA revenue than the other segments.
The vendors evaluated include Dell EMC, Hitachi Vantara, HPE, Huawei, IBM, Kaminario, NetApp, Pure Storage, Tegile (Western Digital), and Tintri. Many of these vendors support multiple platforms so a specific platform was chosen for each vendor that IDC felt was best suited to the objective of hosting mixed enterprise workloads going forward.
A key finding from the analyses is that the successful AFA vendors all pretty much have the functionality requirements handled. This shouldn't be a surprise at this point, since many of the vendors have had large enterprise array businesses for years, and already have an excellent understanding of storage consolidation requirements. For many of these vendors, success in the evaluated segment is a matter of successfully flash-optimizing their design while bringing forward much of the proven functionality from their Hybrid Flash Array (HFA) platforms. All the evaluated vendors field systems that are a good fit for dense mixed enterprise workload consolidation, with the possible exception that a few of them do not yet support stretch clusters (which are often required for an enterprise's most mission-critical applications).
What differentiates the vendors is more interesting, and certainly more telling for the future. The areas where IDC was able to discriminate between vendors included their choice of hardware (custom or commodity off-the-shelf), architecture (how much scale-out have they incorporated into their array), and three emerging offerings that are changing the enterprise storage landscape: their strategy around NVMe; how they use cloud-based predictive analytics to drive value for their customers; and the use of more standardized customer experience (CX) evaluation approaches like Net Promoter Score to inform how they deal with customers. While these considerations can be only secondary to many IT organizations today, they are driving changes that benefit customers and will result in an enterprise storage industry that within two to three years looks very different from the recent past.
NVMe developments touch on a number of areas. Today only a very small number of workloads actually require the low latency of a remote direct memory access (RDMA) protocol, but there are a number of other reasons to consider NVMe technology in enterprise arrays. Efficiency is a key consideration. Unlike SCSI, which was specifically designed for spinning disk media, NVMe is specifically designed for flash media. This has many implications for how efficiently flash media is used. While SCSI interfaces on flash devices like solid state disks (SSDs) made it very easy to harness some of the advantages of flash while preserving existing SCSI-based investments, the industry is quickly moving towards a future where NVMe makes a difference:
Enterprises are beginning to deploy more real-time big data/analytics workloads where not only the low latency of NVMe is important but also the high throughput and bandwidth
Even in the primary storage arena, data sets are growing larger, and NVMe offers significantly increased data mobility over SCSI
Composable infrastructure, which today is in its infancy, will work its way towards much more mainstream use over the next three to four years, and NVMe (and in particular NVMe over Fabric) will be a strong enabler of composable infrastructure
NVMe results in significantly increased infrastructure density (more performance and capacity per U of rack space) and enables lower cost, faster recovery, and lower power consumption per unit of work
NVMe over Fabric will allow hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) platforms to be efficiently deployed across a much broader set of workloads, giving enterprises more architectural options. [Note, however, that HCI platforms were not part of the IDC AFA MarketScape.] While vendors like Huawei, IBM, Pure Storage and Tegile (Western Digital after the September 2017 acquisition) are all making broad use of NVMe for performance reasons in their systems today, Kaminario has distinguished itself in this area by announcing a platform (Kaminario Flex) that uses NVMe to enable storage composability on a grand scale. Kaminario Flex was announced in August 2017, and it will ship in the first half of 2018. IDC expects other vendors to go beyond just the latency and efficiency advantages of NVMe (over SCSI) to announce composable storage infrastructure capabilities based on NVMe over Fabric in 2018 as well. It's a great idea that has real applicability to mainstream usage today.
Hopefully the IDC AFA MarketScape will help enterprises to better match AFA architectures, features, and support and CX philosophies to their own individual needs. While the software-based features (e.g. dual parity RAID, in-line compression and deduplication, snapshots, encryption, QoS, replication, etc.) on these systems are very comparable, there are clearly areas of differentiation between the vendors. And hopefully it will also help vendors to understand some of the newer trends that will ultimately drive significant changes in the enterprise storage experience overall.