Yesterday morning, there was an interesting announcement: NetApp’s intent to sell EVO: RAIL bundled/integrated with their FAS storage array products.
“Hmm, makes total sense” I thought over my morning coffee.
But the level of resulting confusion on the interwebs was exceptional.
So I thought I’d share my personal opinions as to what’s going on here, and why I think it makes sense.
A Little Background?
Although many industry-watchers think that VSAN “competes” with other storage product out there (external arrays like NetApp and EMC, software-only products like Scality and ScaleIO), I don’t look at it that way.
In my world, products are “competitors” only if they are reasonable alternatives for similar use cases.
If I’m looking at hand tools, two different hammers might compete.
A hammer and a screwdriver certainly don’t.
Anyone who has spent time looking at VSAN comes away with the same impression — it’s a distinctly different storage offering than other alternatives. The only real discussion that remains is around use cases and suitability for specific requirements.
The big news at VMworld in August was EVO: RAIL — a hyperconverged appliance with a unique business model: VMware supplies unique software and specifies the hardware envelope; partners add value through services and additional product integrations.
EVO: RAIL is targeted at exceptional simplicity: acquisition, setup, operations. EVO: RAIL partners offer deployment choices, value-added services as well as unique integrations.
Frankly, I think it's a great model, and I'm not the only one.
EVO: RAIL incorporates VSAN as its primary storage service. The list of partners who’ve signed up so far is impressive, with more coming I’m sure.
So far, so good.
The NetApp Announcement
As a value-added EVO: RAIL partner, NetApp certainly brings a lot to the table. Their storage products offer strong data management capabilities and great control-plane integrations, including upcoming VVOL support.
They’ve also been successful with FlexPod, so they understand the converged/hyperconverged segment and how it works.
That’s why it made so much sense to me. But it seemed to confuse the heck out of other folks, so …
First, EVO: RAIL always includes VSAN -- it's integral to the product. So the NetApp FAS products don’t replace VSAN, they complement it, as would most external arrays. This is not a radical idea -- I even wrote about this a while back.
Second, there are all sorts of use cases where the combination makes sense. The NetApp arrays offer much: great dedupe, powerful snaps, multi-platform support, powerful replication, etc. etc. VSAN offers extreme simplicity, great performance, compelling economics and killer integration with vSphere.
Going a bit further, vSphere policy mechanisms make it easy to automate placement across one, two or several different types of compliant datastores. Add in management integration via plug-ins, etc. and it's an entirely reasonable proposition.
Third, while it makes sense that server vendors would want to be EVO: RAIL partners, the appeal isn’t limited to that crowd and that crowd only.
While EVO: RAIL is very attractive in its stand-alone form, it also can be seen as a building-block for value-added integration: data protection, vertical applications — the list is endless.
Essentially, any value-add that works in the virtualization world also works in the EVO: RAIL world — it’s just another consumption option.
And NetApp has certainly built up considerable value-added integration and expertise in the vSphere world.
All of that comes forward with EVO: RAIL.
The Industry Perspective
The fact that NetApp and other non-server vendors would be interested in EVO: RAIL shouldn’t be surprising.
Virtualization is now ubiquitous, with VMware leading the pack. The market has responded very positively to all forms of pre-integrated infrastructure: converged, and now hyperconverged. Initial response to EVO: RAIL has been exceptionally impressive, and I can only trust that will continue.
And, from where I sit, this party is just getting started :)
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