Initial Observations from the Forthcoming DCIG 2012 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide

If you are a regular follower of the DCIG blog site you may have noticed that there has been a noticeable lack of blogging activity on DCIG’s site this week. Unfortunately it is not because I have been taking a vacation, fishing or merely lounging by the lake. Rather I have been locked away in my office completing the background research associated with the upcoming release of the DCIG 2012 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide due out in the 4th quarter of 2011. Out of that some interesting early observations have emerged.

In preparing this updated version of the Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide, DCIG had a lot of feedback to draw upon to improve this Buyer’s Guide from the prior one as it looks to make it even more pertinent to help enterprise users make enterprise storage buying decisions. Here are some of the changes people will notice when the DCIG 2012 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide comes out in Q4 2011:

  • Fewer products. The DCIG 2010 Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide released in Q2 2010 evaluated over 70 products from 20+ providers. This one will still cover about the same number of providers but fewer products – right now it looks to be around 50. While I initially expected the number of products that would be covered to increase, the number actually decreased. This was due to stricter criteria for inclusion in the Buyer’s Guide and the inability to find reliable and comprehensive publicly available information on the Internet for those companies that did not complete the DCIG survey about their midrange arrays.
  • More details on VMware vSphere integration. VMware was important in 2010 but it was almost all on the server side. In the last 18 months VMware has extended its influence such that enterprise users are now more aggressively looking for and buying midrange arrays that support the VMware vStorage APIs such as VAAI and the newly announced VASA.
  • Storage capacity has been de-emphasized. In the last Buyer’s Guide the storage capacity on each midrange array was given a great deal of weighting in the final results. That will be less so the case in this release of the Buyer’s Guide for the next reason.
  • Storage efficiency and intelligence have been emphasized. Storage vendors have been adding efficiency and intelligence features into storage arrays over the last decade. But it has been difficult for most enterprises to capitalize on that extra intelligence unless they were using a specific application or had storage administrators skilled in the software of their particular storage array (hence the heavy emphasis on capacity in the last Buyer’s Guide.)

The wide adoption of VMware by small, midsize and large enterprises has changed all of that. VMware IS the application that everyone owns that can take advantage of the efficiency and intelligence features in these midrange arrays without these organizations having to hiring costly storage administrators to do so since the management of these features is integrated with vSphere and vCenter. VMWare integration will contribute to a shake-up as to which storage arrays achieve the top ranking in the upcoming Buyer’s Guide.

  • Better accounting for scale-out architectures. The full capabilities of midrange arrays from Dell (EqualLogic,) HP (P4000 LeftHand) and Infortrend (ESVA) were not fully reflected in the last Buyer’s Guide. So even though individual models that are part of these product portfolios were covered in the Buyer’s Guide, there was insufficient consideration and weighting given to how the models can function together and support a scale-out SAN architecture. That deficiency is addressed in this Buyer’s Guide.

In addition to these changes in focus and how specific features will be emphasized (or de-emphasized) in the upcoming Midrange Array Buyer’s Guide there are some other general trends that I have noticed as I have reviewed and tabulated the results.

  • High capacity 5.4K RPM SATA drives are supported by very few providers. 18 months ago the adoption rate of these HDDs drives appeared to be on the uptick as they offered high capacity at an even lower price than comparably sized 7.2K RPM SATA drives. 18 months later, the availability of these drives as an option on storage arrays has almost disappeared as the interest by users in them seems to have waned with maybe 10% of storage providers offering these 5.4K RPM drives as an option on their arrays.
  • SSDs have gone main stream. SSDs were just starting to come into their own in the first half of 2010 as option. Now it can be safely said that the availability of SSDs as an option has gone main stream with over 75% of midrange array models now supporting them.
  • Midrange array support of VMware vStorage APIs is NOT as common as one might think. As mentioned earlier, the adoption rate of VMware is putting a new emphasis on midrange arrays to integrate with vSphere and vCenter to do everything from array management to managing snapshots on the array. However a surprising 41% of midrange array models offered no support for VAAI at all while only 25% supported all or a majority of the features that VAAI has to offer. (Please note these percentages may change by the time the Buyer’s Guide is released in Q4 2011 as DCIG expects storage vendors to announce additional support for VMware vStorage APIs at the upcoming VMworld in late August 2011.)

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