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Isilon strengthens EMC’s hand vs. NetApp: Gartner

Simon Sharwood

2011 will see fierce competition for the file storage market, according to Roger Cox, a Gartner Research Vice-President who worked on the analyst firm’s Worldwide External Controller-Based Disk Storage Vendor Revenue Estimates that we reported on last week.

Cox told SearchStorage ANZ that 2010’s most significant occurrence in the storage market was NetApp’s 50% growth, and said much of it could be attributed to the growth of server virtualisation.

But Cox said “the future story is more about the file market” and singled out NetApp and EMC as the dominant players in that field.

EMC’s recent acquisition of Isilon, he said, means it is game on in that market.

“We expect the file market to grow very much and those companies should do well,” he said from Gartner’s Data Centre Summit. “Isilon gives EMC a big boost: it’s an excellent acquisition for EMC. VNX can’t do files under a single namespace, but EMC can use Isilon to consolidate NetApp filers. NetApp’s problem is you need a lot of filers and one Isilon can replace a lot of filers.”

NetApp is also vulnerable, he believes, at the low end.

“The place there needs to be investment done is in the midrange NAS space. There is no midrange NAS that can compete with NetApp’s FAS 2000 or FAS 3100. Dell and HP are weak there.”

One reason for the lack of competition is that many companies from the second tier of storage vendors was all acquired last year, with Isilon, Compellent, 3Par, Left Hand and others all bought by larger entities. Those buys should, Cox said, accelerate innovation as the new owners can offer more research and development resources.

Other observations Cox offered include:

  • The Dell/EMC relationship “will continue to deteriorate,” but while the companies will feud in private, both will “do the right thing by customers.”
  • The acquisition of Hitachi GST by Western Digital will not slow the pace of innovation in the disk industry. “We’ve seen consolidation in the disk business for a long time and it has not stymied innovation,” Cox said. Nor has consolidation put upward pressure on disk prices. Indeed, Cox expects prices may even fall as the combined company may “get more critical mass from the supply chain.”
  • Fibre Channel over Ethernet won’t “get the same level of traction first imagined,” thanks to Ethernet’s improving speed. NFS, CiFS and iSCSI will therefore rise in popularity.