But he points out that only really cheap or really smart customers are likely to want or to be capable of running CoprHD in production environments. Aside from these two types of customers, everyone else will probably want to buy ViPR Controller from EMC in the same way that the vast majority of enterprises use Red Hat Enterprise Linux in production rather than the more cutting-edge Fedora. That's because they will then have a professionally supported product in their data center with a number to call if anything goes wrong.
"In that sense CoprHD is just a marketing tool. EMC will give you time with the puppy for nothing, and then, once you have fallen in love with it, you will pay for it," says Peters.
He also believes that it is important for EMC to be able to say that it has at least some open source software amongst its offerings, because without it the company risks being excluded from some RFPs. To that extent an open source offering is simply something to allow the company to get its foot in the door with some potential customers. "ViPR — which hasn't had as much take-up as EMC would have liked — is as good a place as any to start," Peters explains.
Mike Matchett, a senior analyst at Taneja Group, agrees that open sourcing ViPR should probably be interpreted as a kind of land grab on the part of EMC. "The company is taking its API-centric controller code and open sourcing it in the hope that others will pick it up and run with it, adding data services to it," he says. "My feeling is that EMC is just aiming to create a larger market for its software."
There's a risk, he adds, that small startup vendors will come along and offer hardware that works with ViPR that they package up and ship as a complete product. But he believes that EMC will be comfortable competing with these startups.
On the other hand, open sourcing ViPR does give EMC an advantage when it comes to preserving its existing proprietary storage arrays systems by killing potential competition. "There's a good chance that having a shared market-wide storage controller that’s freely available could put the kibosh on things. Vendors will find array-level features become less significant because these features are available at the controller level, so people who want to sell arrays may be left behind."
The one remaining question is the extent to which EMC plans to make more of its storage software open source. EMC has always been a bastion of proprietary software and has little experience with open source, so its experience with CoprHD is likely to be crucial to producing an answer to that question.
"My feeling is that EMC is trying open source out with a piece of code that is not that big a risk," says Matchett. If open source doesn’t take off for EMC then it will just carry on with ViPR. EMC is realizing that the world is changing, and is simply hedging its bets."
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