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EMC Gives Storage Virtualization a Politically Correct Name: Software Defined Storage

About a decade ago, give or take a few years, a huge debate raged in the storage industry as to what was the best form of storage virtualization. However all that debate created over time was an equally large sense of fatigue with many people souring on the whole topic of storage virtualization. To resolve that, the term “storage virtualization” has been given a facelift at the 2013 EMC World and with it a politically correct name: Software Defined Storage – that is available from EMC as EMC ViPR.

It is hard to believe that nearly ten years have passed since the storage industry engaged in what at that time seemed to be an almost endless series of debates on what was the best form or forms of storage virtualization.  Terms such as “in-band virtualization,” “out-of-band virtualization,” “host-based virtualization,” “network-based virtualization,” and “storage controller-based virtualization” were just some of the terms bandied about. In fact, the very first article that I ever wrote and published (and which launched my career as a writer and an analyst) was on this subject in 2002.

Yet the end result of that debate was souring decision-makers (i.e. – those in management who gave the approval to write and sign the checks for technology purchases) on the whole topic of storage virtualization. This came to mean any form of storage virtualization which did everyone a grave disservice.

The entire industry (analysts, journalists and writers included) should have kept our focus on the larger benefits that any of these various forms of storage virtualization would have provided. Our job was to educate and inform the industry on the pros and cons of each form of storage virtualization and arguably make recommendations as to which form was the best in certain circumstances. However our job was not to take sides.

There was never any doubt (at least in my mind) about storage virtualization’s overall value proposition regardless of which path was chosen. But by taking sides in the debate and implying that it was “one way or the highway,” management chose the highway. This contributed to the negative connotation associated with storage virtualization which persists to some degree even to this day and contributed to the inordinately slow adoption of this technology.

This put storage companies in a bit of a bind. At the end of the day, they all knew that a comprehensive storage virtualization solution was a prerequisite to fully deliver on the benefits of the cloud. However pitching storage virtualization to corporate IT management was only bound to evoke memories of the early 2000’s storage virtualization wars and turn them off to the whole topic before they had even heard them out.

This is why I have to give EMC credit. By using the term “Software Defined Storage” to describe its new ViPR product, EMC has identified a politically correct phrase that sidesteps the negative emotional baggage that end-users associate with storage virtualization while once again piquing their interest in the topic. As for what this means for EMC in particular and end-users at large, I’ll try to cover that angle later this week in a subsequent blog entry.


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