Et tu, Brute? EMC offering capacity guarantees? The sky is falling! Will Chuck resign?

It came to my attention that EMC is offering a 20% efficiency guarantee vs the competition (they seem to be focusing on NetApp as usual but that’s besides the point in this post). See here.

Now, I won’t go ahead and attack their guarantee. Good luck with that, more power to you etc etc. They need all the competitive edge they can get.

No, what I’ll do is expose yet more EMC messaging inconsistency. If you’ve been following the posts in my site you’ll notice that I have absolutely nothing against EMC products – but I do have issues with how they’re sold and marketed and what they’ll say about the competition.

First and foremost: most major storage players, with the notable exception of EMC, have been offering some kind of efficiency guarantee. Sure, you needed to read the fine print to see if your specific use case would be covered (like with every binding document), but at least the guarantees were there. NetApp was first with our 50% efficiency guarantee, then came others (HDS and 3Par are just some that come to mind). We even offer a 35% guarantee if we virtualize EMC arrays 🙂

We all have different ways of getting the efficiency. NetApp has a combo of deduplication, thin provisioning, snapshots, highly efficient RAID and thin cloning, for instance. Others have a subset (3Par has their really good thin provisioning, for example). Regardless, we all tried to offer some measure of extra efficiency in these hard economic times.

And it’s not just marketing: I have multiple customers that, especially on virtualized environments, save at least 70% (that’s a real 70%, not 70% because we switched them from RAID10 to RAID-DP – literally, a 10TB data set is occupying 3TB). And for deployments like VDI, the savings are in the extreme range.

EMC’s stance was to, at a minimum, ridicule said guarantees. The inimitable Barry Burke (the storage anarchist) had this pretty funny post.

Chuck Hollis has been far more polemic about this – the worst was when he said he’d quit if EMC tried to do something similar (see here in the comments). BTW â we are all waiting for that resignation 🙂 (on a more serious note, Chuck, if you don’t resign because of this, at least refrain from promising next time).

He also called other guarantees “shenanigans” here. I guess he’s really against the idea of guarantees.

But now it’s all good you see, EMC is offering a blanket 20% efficiency guarantee versus the competition! I.e. they will be able to provide 20% more actual usable storage or else they’ll give you free drives to cover the difference. You see, this guarantee is real, not like what all the other companies offer 🙂

Kidding aside, methinks they’re missing the point – this (to go back to my favorite car analogies) is like saying: :Both our car and your car have a 3-liter engine, but yours has twin turbos and a racing intercooler and 3 times the horsepower but we won’t take any of that into account, we will strictly examine whether you indeed have a 3-liter engine, and we’ll bore ours out to make it 3.6 liters for free”. Alrighty then. I’ll keep my turbos. But how will they deal with an existing NetApp customer that’s getting something like 3x efficiency already? Fulfilling the guarantee terms could get mighty expensive.

If a NetApp customer is getting 3x the usable storage due to deduplication and other means, will EMC come up with the difference or will they just make sure they offer 20% more raw storage?

To the customer, all that matters is how much effective storage they’re able to use, not how much raw storage is in the box.

But, still, this is not what this post is about.

Throughout the years, NetApp and other vendors have offered true innovation on different fronts. Each time that happens, EMC (that also innovates – through acquisition mostly – but likes to act as if nobody else does) employs their usual “minimize and divert” technique. Either they will trivialize the innovation (“who’d want to do that?”) or they will proclaim it false, then divert attention to something they already do (or will do in a few years).

This is even the case for technologies EMC eventually acquired, like Data Domain. Before EMC acquired Data Domain, they disparaged the product, claimed it was the worst kind of device you’d ever want in your datacenter, then tried to sell you the execrable DL3D (AKA Quantum DXi (don’t get me started, the first release was an utter mess).

We all know what happened to that story eventually: at the moment, EMC is offering to swap out existing DL3Ds for free in many cases, and put Data Domain in their place since it’s infinitely better. But wait, weren’t they saying how terrible Data Domain was compared to DL3D?

Some will say this is fine since they’re just trying to compete, and “all is fair”. Personally, if I were approached by sales teams with those about-face tactics, I’d be annoyed.

So, without further ado, I present you with a slide a colleague created. Some of the timing may be a bit off, but the gist should be fairly clear… 🙂

I could have added a few more lines (Flash Cache, for instance) but it would have made for too busy a slide.

EDIT: I’ll add something I posted as a comment on someone else’s blog that I think is germane.

Since, to provide apples-to-apples protection, EMC HAS to be configured with RAID6, where are the public benchmarks showing EMC RAID6? As you well know, ALL NetApp benchmarks (SPEC, SPC) are with RAID-DP. Any EMC benchmarks around are with RAID10.

Maybe another guarantee is needed:

Provide no worse protection, functionality, space and performance than X competitor.

Otherwise, you’re only tackling a relatively unimportant part of the big picture.


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FUD and The Invention of Lying

I watched “The Invention of Lying” movie the other day. Fairly entertaining, and it had an interesting concept:

Imagine a society where nobody can lie – the very concept of lying is alien and never even enters anyone’s mind. Obviously, tons of jokes can be made using that premise, and the movie is riddled with them – such as their fictional Pepsi ad: “Pepsi: when they’re out of Coke!”

In the movie, a single man stumbles upon the concept of lying, and realizes he can do whatever he wishes since nobody else can tell he’s lying.

Obviously, in our society lying is quite prevalent – a large percentage of the population wouldn’t have jobs or offspring without lying.

I thought – what if, just for fun, we applied “The Invention of Lying” movie concept to IT sales? (I guess this is another take on comparing vendors to cars or wines and whatnot). I’m going for an alphabetical, non-comprehensive list (and added a few non-storage entries). I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out if this is more accurate from the standpoint of a rep that cannot lie, or vice versa… 🙂

  • 3Par: Our best asset is Marc Farley, his highly entertaining blog is what sells our gear. Our gear is pretty fast, though the software not as good as others’. Unsure how we are still in business. Also unsure why nobody has bought us yet. We do have a handful of very large, loyal customers.
  • Apple: Our stuff is prettier but inside it’s all the same, actually often slower than others. Oh, and it’s a lot more expensive. But the software is cool (when you can find it). You’ll probably need to run Windows in a VM anyway to get the full functionality. Did we mention our stuff is prettier?
  • Bluearc: We have limited-functionality NAS with good sequential and random read speeds but not so much for random writes. Oh, and no application integration. But it’s good for certain workloads. Why is nobody acquiring us?
  • Compellent: Data Progression is the coolest thing we do, and we’ll probably go under now that the big vendors can do it. Oh, and it never did much in the real world, especially for performance. Hopefully we’ll get acquired, but if our technology is that good, why did nobody acquire us yet? We’re extremely affordable!
  • Equallogic: We’ll give you free storage (the first hit is free) if/since you also buy Dell servers. We might even throw in a free laptop and a projector. And a mouse pad. Make sure you convert everything to iSCSI since that’s all we do. Oh, you wanted to know specifics about the storage? Well – it’s free! If you buy some servers. You really want to know about the storage? Well, it’s free if… What? You want to understand the failure math of RAID 50? It’s atrocious, but the box is free if…
  • EMC: We buy companies since innovating is kinda hard and time-consuming, so our solutions end up being a mish-mash of technologies. It all mostly works, though interoperability between platforms sucks. Regarding storage, you should really only buy Symmetrix since all our other stuff doesn’t even come close to that quality, we have the other boxes just to meet price points and plug portfolio holes. We trash competitors until we acquire them or until we build something good enough that’s similar. We also sell futures. Hard. We focus too much on NetApp.
  • HDS: We don’t know how to write software but our high-end gear hardware is pretty solid. The cheaper stuff is OK, severely lacks in functionality but we’ll just drop the price enough that you’ll buy it anyway. Capisce?
  • HP: Seems that buying companies works for EMC, we’ll do the same, let’s see what happens. We used to make the best calculators in the world. Oh, and our best array is actually made by HDS. Our servers are great! Please, also buy some printers, they’re pretty good.
  • IBM: We used to be some of the best in storage, now our only 2 products are SVC and DS8K (oops, and now XIV), everything else we resell after we put our faceplates on it. Our biggest sellers are products made by LSI and NetApp. Oh, and we internally compete with the XIV team we acquired. Our storage solutions don’t talk to one another since they’re all made by different people. But SVC can tie it all together! Well, some of it, anyway.
  • Intel: We are so big that even if AMD has better stuff, eventually we catch up. Just you wait. In the meantime, buy more Intel to keep us going. Resistance is futile.
  • Isilon: We are decent for bulk sequential-access NAS, just don’t do any kind of random workload on our gear.
  • LeftHand: If you want any reasonable storage efficiency plus resiliency you need to buy a bunch of boxes (5 or so), since each box is essentially an HP server with internal disks, and the whole server can die. Oh, and we only do iSCSI. So you better make sure you only do iSCSI.
  • NetApp: We probably have some of the worst marketing of all vendors, and often can’t clearly articulate what makes our systems better to C-level execs, focusing almost entirely on techies. We also have issues with making some acquisitions pan out. ONTAP 8 is taking us forever to release, and until then you won’t have very wide striping (update: GA’d 3/19/10). We complicate sales because our engineers are too technical and insist on explaining how the boxes work at a low level, frequently confusing customers, that seldom care about understanding Row-Diagonal Parity equations. Too much good information is tribal knowledge, including performance tuning and the gigantic customers we have. We focus too much on EMC.
  • Pillar: We cry ourselves to sleep because all we have is Larry Ellison and QoS. Maybe Larry will finally force Oracle to finally buy some of his^H^H^H our gear? I wonder how that will go down since Oracle is already using a superior technology and achieving great savings… but we do make a fairly fast box if you’re OK with limited functionality and RAID50.
  • Sun: We can sell you some LSI storage, but even that may be going away. You can also get the exact same storage from IBM that also resells LSI. How about a Thumper? We may also have some leftover HDS gear that we can give you real cheap.
  • Xiotech: Our value prop is extremely obscure and only understood well by about 5 engineers. Out of those 5 engineers, 2 understand the exact failure scenarios of our ISE architecture, and they can’t explain it to anyone else. We are pretty cheap though.
  • XIV: We believe in success through obfuscation. Our box can only do about 17K IOPS if the workload isn’t cache-friendly but we know how to cheat in benchmarks and make it seem faster (make sure your benchmark writes all zeros and/or fits in cache). The box also consumes more power and space than any other storage system. Our reps compete with IBM reps even though we are owned by IBM, since we only get paid on XIV sales, regardless of what the customer’s needs are. Oh, and under certain conditions, a 2-disk failure will bring down the entire system. But don’t you worry about that. BTW, the GUI is amazingly pretty.

Hope you had a chuckle reading some of this!

(minor edits – typo plus some on Twitter complained I was too gentle in the NetApp section 🙂 )


Retarded storage and thin-skinned people

So this is kind of a long but funny story and a rant against oversensitive people at the same time.

About a year ago, this sales guy and I go to this architecture firm since they told us they are in dire need of a better storage solution.

We meet with their admin, real nice young guy, let’s call him Mike. He explains to me how they have this old <insert few-letter-company name> clustered NAS with some JBOD behind it. They’re having performance issues, it’s not scalable, they don’t replicate it or do snaps, the list goes on about how much he hates that box. It’s just not working out.

He then mentions he wasn’t part of the decision to buy the box and he just wants to get rid of it and get something much better.

So I start explaining to him the higher-end NAS solutions, I talk about the EMC Celerra, all the things it does etc. The whole explanation takes like 2 hours since he really was unfamiliar with a lot of the basics so I started from the ground up, explained the entire concept and architecture etc.

By the end of this we’re bonding with the guy, he’s throwing some F bombs in casual conversation, all in all we’re comfortable. He tells me he finally gets it, he realizes it took him a while to see the big picture but now he totally understands the value prop. He’s excited.

I feel stoked since I like the guy and it’s not often that you get to educate someone and make them that happy. Very rewarding. So we’re joking some more and I mention how the old box is pretty much retarded when compared to the EMC box, since the EMC box does so much more it’s ridiculous.

He laughs about that and agrees, we joke some more, I promise him I’ll send him a config to look over and we leave.

On the way out he tells me how great it all was, and cautions me jokingly that it’s probably not a good idea to mention to more conservative customers that their existing storage is retarded. We laugh and part ways in a very friendly fashion. Of course I don’t normally say something like that, I only did because we were joking around and bonding and, most importantly, he told me it wasn’t his baby and that he hates it. Usually the coast is clear after something like that 🙂

So I send him his config, he’s getting a great deal, all very well architected. No response. I call him, no response. Eventually the rep calls him, and Mike tells the rep how he was offended that I called his storage retarded and he doesn’t want to do business with us. I thought this was the weirdest thing ever. My initial reaction is that maybe someone close to him is mentally retarded – but if that were the case, he should have shown some kind of reaction when I first mentioned the dim-wittedness of his existing storage.

But wait, there’s more.

About a year later… different gig, different rep. I get the invite to go to this place and talk about storage. They’ve had problems for years and have a really old and bad system in place and really need a replacement. I walk in, and of course it’s the same exact architecture firm! I tell the rep that this is probably a bad idea and that I should leave. I don’t have time though because Mike comes to greet us.

The moment he sees me, he’s like “sorry guys, this is not gonna happen, you just leave now so we don’t waste each other’s time”. He says that he really respects my expertise but he won’t do business with a company I work at. He doesn’t want to speak to another engineer and pretty much kicks us out. I can’t shut up any more and I tell Mike that he has really, really thin skin.

Needless to say the new sales guy is dumbfounded.

The sales guy calls Mike a day or so later and gets an explanation out of him. Mike claims he doesn’t want to deal with engineers that belittle his equipment since how do I know in what financial dire straits they were? Maybe they were forced to buy the retarded storage.

Which is fine but shows that either Mike lied throughout our entire first meeting or has an amazingly bad short-term memory.

I wish Mike all the best in his future endeavors and still stand by my original assertion: get off your retarded storage if it’s causing you problems. Even if you don’t have money there are other appliance-type solutions to be had on the cheap (or free)!

Here are some easy-to-use appliances that are quite good:

You could try all of them as virtual machines if you don’t want to dedicate hardware to them to begin with. That way you can test all of them easily. You can also roll your own with Solaris 10 or Linux, of course it requires one to know what they’re doing but it’s amazing what can be accomplished for next to zero dollars nowadays.

And Mike, if you ever read this:

Get some thicker skin. And maybe some Gingko Biloba. Moreover, if the real reason I offended you was that someone close to you is retarded – get over it, it’s just an expression!

People are just too damn sensitive these days. Just get the job done.