Dell dropped a bombshell on the data deduplication market today with the announcement that is has signed an agreement to buy Ocarina Networks. The amount of the deal was not disclosed (but I’m working on that). We’ll be following up on this announcement in the near future as we get more info, but for now:

Ocarina has content-aware storage optimization technology – data deduplication plus compression – that until recently it sold bundled in appliances. Less than a month ago, the company announced an embeddable version of its ECOsystem data reduction technology targeted at OEMs.

Since that announcement came amidst rumors that IBM was about to buy Storwize (an Ocarina competitor) for $140 million, the Ocarina announcement led to speculation about which vendors might adopt the technology, as well as which of Ocarina’s partners might acquire the company. (The IBM-Storwize rumor has, at least for now, fizzled out.)

In a blog on Ocarina’s announcement, I opined that HP might be interested in Ocarina (see “Ocarina: 4 dedupe predictions, and an OEM strategy,” a June 22 blog post). Along with EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, BlueArc and others, HP is one of Ocarina’s partners.

That level of perspicuity is why I don’t invest in storage vendors.

Until the announcement of the embeddable, OEM version of its software, Ocarina was known primarily as a vendor of data reduction technology for primary storage. But the embeddable version is applicable across the storage spectrum, from primary storage to backup and archive storage.

In Dell’s press release on the acquisition announcement, Ocarina CEO Murli Thirumale was quoted as saying “This brings deduplication to not only primary storage, but also to key storage workflows including backup, replication, migration and tiering.”

However, the release also stated that “Ocarina brings a leading deduplication capability to complement Dell’s EqualLogic solutions.” And Brad Anderson, senior vice president in Dell’s Enterprise Product Group, also singled out the EqualLogic product line in a quote: “Ocarina provides an important component of our data management portfolio and our EqualLogic ecosystem . . . .”

So, the Ocarina technology will be applied only to the EqualLogic line of iSCSI arrays? Or will it be applied across the board; in other words, all of Dell’s storage systems? And if the latter is correct, what does that mean for Dell’s existing data deduplication technologies and partners?

Will Dell still need deduplication partners CommVault and Symantec?

What are the implications for Dell’s reseller deal with EMC for Data Domain deduplication systems?

Will Dell eventually have one deduplication technology, or will the company maintain a menu of options?

Where does this leave other data reduction specialists, such as GreenBytes, Exar and Permabit, which recently announced an embeddable version of its storage optimization technology (see “Permabit deduplicates primary storage”)?

And how will the deduplication kingpins – NetApp and EMC – react?

For now, more questions than answers.

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