As a company gets larger it becomes increasingly difficult for it to innovate and storage is a market that thrives on innovation. It has not become commoditized like the server market despite multiple predictions to the contrary. Server vendors have repeatedly bought their way into storage attracted by the higher margins. My recommendation is to resist and buy your storage from a storage only, or at least mostly, vendor.Storage is a market that thrives on innovation. While storage virtualization helped address many of the challenges that we face today in storage like provisioning and storage management, there are still plenty of challenges in storage that need to be addressed. There are better ways still to be invented to address solid state storage, cloud integration, server virtualization and primary storage deduplication. In addition to the new challenges brought on by new devices and services, old applications are changing and it directly impacts the storage system. Exchange 2010 seems to need a different storage paradigm than previous versions for example.
In addition to devices and software improvements changes to storage connectivity continue. In the past three years we have seen the emergence of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), ATA over Ethernet (AoE) and SAS. All of which impact how storage systems and their infrastructures can be scaled. Further we have seen old technologies become new, for example NFS is now "cool" again thanks to its potential as a server virtualization storage platform as we discuss in our article "Using NFS for Server Virtualization".
The companies that are first to take advantage of these advances in storage are usually storage focused. Look at the leaders in storage provisioning, scale out storage and NFS based virtualization, all are companies that only or mostly do storage. Why does that matter to you? If the implementation of one or multiple of these technologies help you drive down your storage CAPEX or OPEX cost this gives your organization a competitive advantage.
Also don't be swayed by the argument that it is safer to buy storage from your server vendor. Look at the track record of most server vendors and for the most part you will see an inconsistent mess. They buy a relatively good product and then it typically just languishes. Sure there are product updates but those are generally incremental, they are not giant steps forward like you see storage focused companies taking. Eventually the server vendor then buys another storage platform and you are forced to start all over again anyway. So you might as well buy storage from the companies that do storage for a living. This is not only limited to storage startups that typically burn the new trails first but even the storage veterans get some credit here. Adding a feature like thin provisioning or automated tiering to a 10 to 15 year old technology is no small, feat but if you are focused on storage you have to figure out a way to get it done, and they often do.
Server manufacturers can't resist though and I guess there is potential for at least one of the server manufacturers to get storage right. To do it they need to have an understanding that a storage system is not a server with a bunch of disk shelves attached to it. There is intelligent design at work that has to be treated differently than a server.
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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.