Where has all the innovation gone in storage companies?

As a vExpert, I am lucky enough to get early access to new products, and spend some time with some of the best minds in our industry.  I am always humbled by the individuals who are willing to give us a peak into their world, and interested to see, so please don’t take this as a slam on anyone, this is more of an observation on the storage industry.

I was sitting on a webinar with, wait for it, yup, another storage startup.  Every time I think I have a handle on them, a new one comes out of stealth.  I love storage, around 10 years or so ago I moved over from servers to become a storage engineer at the company I was working out, and I still love the absolute simplicity of storage.  It is all based on specific rules, and it is very logical and generally predictable.  It was an easy transition for me coming from a database and app dev background during college.  As I was sitting listening to the product manager explain why the product was different it occurred to me, this was just a pretty simple variation on a theme.  Nothing they were doing was truly unique, cool, but not unique.

Looking at the landscape, it becomes clear that we are at a cross roads with storage technology.  Looking back at the past decade or so, we have seen a huge shift in servers.  Contrary to what we are reading from Cisco and HP, servers are a commodity.  Outside of pure technologists who love a particular technology for religious reasons, most people at this point aren’t too concerned about what brand of servers they are using, provided it works, it is basically just there.  When we look across the server market, there are maybe 5-6 players that are somewhat relevant, and in reality, we could cut that number in half and no one would care much other than the price.  Apply that same logic to storage.  The biggest differentiator between one storage array and another now, other than religious differences, is the software, and maybe a few capabilities.  Certainly one may be faster than another, but at the end of the day, the only thing that is truly unique is their software.  Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, but it is interesting to the debates on who is better and what features mean more than another.

Looking at storage startups, it is only a matter of time before the market collapses, and who will be left standing?  As I have discussed in the past, even if we look at the larger storage companies, they are failing to differentiate themselves much.  Most of the innovation is through acquisition, and at the end of the day, they all do pretty much the same thing.  Companies who fail to innovate in this space become obsolete, just look at Netapp.  Even from the perspective of the server admin, there is far less differentiation between the various storage vendors.  As software continues to increase in power, and as we move to a more software defined storage environments, it becomes a serious question, Where has all the innovation gone, and how different are the various storage vendors in reality?

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Where has all the innovation gone in storage companies?

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