Adoption of fabric-based intelligence stalled

By Heidi Biggar

Two recent surveys conducted by the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) consulting firm suggest that vendors, not users, are in control of the emerging fabric-based intelligence market.

The ESG surveys revealed strong end-user interest in fabric-based intelligence but comparatively little adoption of the technology, although products are currently available from a variety of smaller vendors, including Candera, Cloverleaf, DataCore, FalconStor, Incipient, Maranti, MaXXan, StoreAge, and Troika, as well as larger vendors such as Cisco, IBM, and Veritas.

In one ESG survey, 25% of the 210 respondents said they had adopted "some form of intelligence in the network," while a slightly higher percentage (34%) of 220 respondents to a second survey said they had.

It is important to note that actual adoption of fabric-based intelligence is likely significantly lower than the ESG surveys suggest. The consulting firm believes that some survey respondents may have mistakenly thought that because they had implemented storage management software they had actually adopted "intelligence in the network."

But perhaps more revealing than the rate of adoption among survey respondents was the level of interest in fabric-based applications among non-adopters. For example, 93% of survey respondents who said they had not adopted intelligence in the fabric said they were "interested in" or "open to" implementing the technology.

"These results just screamed out that this market should be taking off much more rapidly than it is," says ESG analyst Nancy Hurley. "What customers are actually looking for-i.e., what they say they want-they aren't getting because some vendors don't want them to have these products right now even though they exist."

According to the ESG surveys-as well as an InfoStor reader survey in which 38% of respondents said they would prefer to run applications on fabric devices versus disk arrays or hosts-users are acutely interested in moving applications off hosts and disk arrays and into the network.

The potential benefits of fabric-based intelligence include easier management (due to centralization), lower storage costs, improved provisioning, better storage utilization, the ability to run storage services on mixed-vendor platforms, and tiered storage capabilities.

According to the ESG surveys, early adopters of this technology reported an average 19.7% per-year savings in hardware-related costs, a 14% savings in software-related expenses, and a 17.4% reduction in administration costs. "It reduced their costs on average about 20% more than they thought that it would," adds Hurley. (For details, see "Intelligence in the fabric: Myth or reality?" InfoStor, October 2004 Special Report, p. 26.)

The point the survey findings make is that those who have adopted intelligence in the network have seen significant value from their implementations. Those who haven't implemented the technology see the value of doing so but are probably not sure what they should implement and are not being educated by vendors.

"We're seeing a lot of interest in the technology, but there is still a lot of confusion about how to implement it," says Hurley. "One thing that our surveys confirm is that given the choice, users would prefer to run storage services in a switch; they'd prefer that the software services come from their current storage providers; and they'd like to start with volume management."

What is interesting is that Veritas, which is the leading provider of volume management software, has gained little, if any, traction with its Volume Manager software running on Cisco's MDS switch platforms, although it has been in the market for nearly a year.

"It simply hasn't been in the best interest of those who sell Cisco's switches-namely, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM-to push this technology," contends Hurley. Also, Veritas does not have the necessary hardware channels, despite its OEM relationships, to push the technology to users, she adds.

It is interesting to note that when asked from which vendor they would like to purchase fabric-based applications, a number of survey respondents said Veritas, which substantiates ESG's conclusion that users would prefer to buy this type of technology from their existing storage software vendors, not from new vendors.

Besides Veritas, respondents to the ESG surveys also listed IBM as a vendor from which they would like to purchase this type of technology. Unlike Veritas, IBM has seen comparatively significant traction in the market for its TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller (SVC) products, particularly its appliance implementation. IBM's blade implementation (SVC running on MDS switches) has also seen some traction among users, according to Hurley.

IBM currently offers this fabric-based intelligence as a stand-alone appliance or as a blade on the MDS platforms. IBM has reportedly installed more than 1,000 implementations of its SVC technology. Hurley believes that of the large vendors (e.g., EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Veritas, etc.), IBM is farthest ahead, although she says that EMC's entry into this market late next year with its Storage Router technology will have a significant impact on the market.

"EMC's entry is going to change the market," says Hurley. "The beauty of their [router] is that you don't have to buy a new switch, whereas with some other approaches you may have to sell users new switches, which may mean having to trade things out."

Demonstrated at the recent Storage Networking World conference, EMC's Storage Router technology will leverage the company's volume management and PowerPath technologies to provide network-based storage virtualization. The technology will reportedly enable a variety of storage services, such as data migration.

As for the start-ups, Hurley says that vendors such as FalconStor (due to its OEM relationships), MaXXan (particularly with its appliance), and Maranti are seeing some traction.

Explains Hurley: "I wouldn't say that the technology from these vendors hasn't taken off-FalconStor, for example, has done well-but the market is still pretty limited due to lack of education among users, lack of products from market leaders, and a lack of desire by the large storage vendors for these solutions to be adopted."

Technologically speaking, Hurley says that the products from the start-ups are "really good" and, in the case of vendors such as Maranti, their business models match users' wish lists. For example, Maranti not only offers a director-class switch with intelligence and high performance at each port, but also allows users to purchase hardware and software from the same vendor, which is what users say they want to do, according to Hurley.

Hurley even goes out on a limb to say that she believes that some of the start-ups are actually in a better position than larger vendors such as Veritas when it comes to gaining traction in the market. "The large vendors may see Veritas as a bigger threat than the start-ups and are actually partnering with some of the start-ups. As an example, Hurley points to FalconStor's OEM relationships with EMC, MaXXan, and StorageTek.

The bottom line is that market adoption of fabric-based intelligence hinges on the large vendors jumping on the band-wagon. IBM is currently leading that effort, although Hitachi (with its recent Tagma-Store announcement) and EMC (with its upcoming Storage Router release) will also fuel the market.

"These vendors realize that this is the wave of the future and there is no getting around it," says Hurley, "but they've determined that the only way to go-that is in their best interests-is with their own software."

This article was originally published on December 01, 2004