Solid-state arrays provide performance levels an order of magnitude faster than disk-based storage arrays at competitive prices per GB, enabled by in-line data reduction and lower-cost NAND SSD. This Magic Quadrant will help IT leaders better understand SSA vendors’ positioning.
This Magic Quadrant covers SSA vendors that offer dedicated SSA product lines positioned and marketed with specific model numbers, which cannot be used as, upgraded or converted to general-purpose or hybrid storage arrays. SSA is a new subcategory of the broader external controller-based (ECB) storage market.
Considering the potential disruptive nature of SSAs on the general-purpose ECB disk storage market, Gartner has elected to report only on vendors that qualify as an SSA. We do not consider solid-state drive (SSD)-only general-purpose disk array configurations in this research. To meet these inclusion criteria, SSA vendors must have a dedicated model and name, and the product cannot be configured with hard-disk drives (HDDs) at any time. These systems typically (but not always) include an OS and data management software optimized for solid-state technology.
Vendors Evaluation Criteria
Ability to Execute
Product or Service evaluates the capabilities of the products or solutions offered to the market.
Overall Viability includes an assessment of the organization’s financial health.
Sales Execution/Pricing looks at the vendor’s capabilities in all presales activities and the structure that supports team.
Market Responsiveness/Record focuses on the vendor’s capability to respond, change direction, be flexible and achieve competitive success.
Marketing Execution directly leads to unaided awareness and a vendor’s ability to be considered by the marketplace.
Customer Experience looks at a vendor’s capability to deal with postsales issues.
Operations considers the ability of the organization to meet its goals and commitments including skills, experiences.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
To be included in the Magic Quadrant for SSA, a vendor must:
Offer a self-contained, SSD-only system that has a dedicated model name and model number (see Note 1).
Have an SSD-only system. It must be initially sold with 100% SSD and cannot be reconfigured, expanded or upgraded at any point with any form of HDDs within expansion trays via any vendor’s special upgrade, specific customer customization or vendor product exclusion process into a hybrid or general-purpose SSD and HDD storage array.
Sell its product as a stand-alone product, without the requirement to bundle it with other vendors’ storage products in order to be implemented in production.
Provide at least five references that Gartner can interview. There must be at least one client reference from Asia/Pacific, EMEA and North America, or the two geographies within which the vendor has a presence.
Provide an enterprise-class support and maintenance service, offering 24/7 customer support (including phone support). This can be provided via other service organizations or channel partners.
Have established notable market presence as demonstrated by the amount of PBs sold, number of clients or significant revenue.
Completeness of Vision
Market Understanding looks at the technology provider’s capability to understand buyers’ needs and respond appropriately.
Marketing Strategy relates to what vendor solution message is described.
Sales Strategy considers the strategy for selling products that uses the appropriate network of direct and indirect sales.
Offering (Product) Strategy looks at a vendor’s product road map and architecture.
Business Model assesses a vendor’s approach to the market.
Vertical/Industry Strategy measures the vendor’s strategy to direct resources, skills.
Innovation measures a vendor’s ability to move the market into new solution areas.
Geographic Strategy measures the vendor’s ability to direct resources, skills and offerings.
EMC has two SSD-based products in the SSA market: (1) the XtremIO scale-out technology, which EMC acquired in May 2012; and (2) the VNX-F array, which is based on the traditional general-purpose VNX unified storage array and exploits the proven VNX HDD-based hardware controllers and software. Both offerings are positioned and sold as dedicated SSAs. EMC has a large and relatively loyal installed base for the XtremIO products. EMC has a significant and broad, but overlapping, SSD product portfolio. The portfolio will be enhanced by EMC’s acquisition of DSSD and its technology, which will initially be positioned as an extreme performance networked appliance. EMC has been a vocal visionary concerning SSD for more than a decade, but its market-leading messaging has outpaced some of its product introductions. Compared with competitor SSAs, the XtremIO product was late to market and became generally available only in November 2013. With a concrete offering, XtremIO, together with VNX-F, has enabled EMC to grab the No. 4 market share position in the SSA segment for 2013. EMC has gained traction for the XtremIO product, and has continued its momentum through 1H14 via concerted sales efforts and competitive pricing.
- EMC has a highly successful global sales force, exceptional marketing, and highly rated support and maintenance capability.
- Large and loyal EMC customers have been provided with early products and attractive competitive introductory pricing. These customers can expect beneficial purchase terms.
- XtremIO offers inclusive software pricing, and customers do not have to budget, track or purchase extra licenses when capacity is upgraded.
- EMC is offering XtremIO at competitive prices to its installed base, but transparency of information (such as list prices, discount levels and independent performance benchmarks) is unavailable. To avoid hidden future costs, customers should fix all XtremIO purchases and upgrades at these competitive introductory prices.
- VNX-F includes data reduction in the base system price. Unlike XtremIO and most competitors’ offerings, VNX-F still uses a traditional licensing structure, which requires customers to pay additional support and license charges for other upgrades and extra features (such as data protection suite).
- While XtremIO’s product integration with ViPR has been announced, it is not currently available. Given the product overlap between the XtremIO and VNX-F products, operational and administration complexity is an issue.
HP is one of the late entrants into the SSA market, with availability of its HP 3PAR StoreServ 7450 model in June 2013. While HP is relatively new to the SSA market with its own product, it had an OEM partnership with Violin Memory, which ended in late 2011, in favor of HP’s organic approach. The 3PAR storage architecture is sufficiently flexible to exploit SSD media, complete with purpose-built SSA features. Compared with EMC and IBM, HP has not aggressively marketed, sold and generally mined its installed base. HP has almost entirely leveraged its 3PAR hardware architecture and management platform, but has made some important enhancements centered on efficiently maximizing the resident SSD technology. This affords HP a cost-effective approach, as well as robust reliability that can be supported with solid warranty terms, including a five-year SSD warranty and six 9s (99.9999%) of availability guarantees for four-node deployments.
- HP has leveraged its hardware and storage software design, which are sufficiently modern and flexible enough to accommodate the nuances of solid-state technology and to implement new data reduction services.
- HP 3PAR StoreServ 7450 offers a proven compatibility matrix for a broad variety of application workloads, cost-effective thin provisioning, and a familiar interface for customers, as well as a scale-out architecture.
- HP has an extensive channel presence, global sales ability and a substantial customer base that is complemented with worldwide support and service capabilities.
- Customers need to request more evidence to demonstrate the ROI to distinguish its product functionality and capability from other SSA and general-purpose arrays.
- Despite the familiarity gained by HP’s leveraging its storage architecture, its media reporting abilities need further refinement.
- Some client references have had limited visibility into HP’s SSA product strategy, and HP and its partners have limited mind share in the market.
IBM acquired Texas Memory Systems (TMS) in September 2012, and subsequently announced in April 2013 that it would invest $1 billion into all aspects of flash (SSD) storage technology. IBM has leveraged its storage technology, specifically Storwize compression software and the IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVC) layer, which has been placed on top of the FlashSystem array to provide high-level data services. TMS had a successful track record of producing low-latency storage using DRAM for over 30 years, and using flash-based storage for nearly 10 years. The IBM-engineered FlashSystem products are available as a stand-alone storage enclosure — the FlashSystem 840 — which has limited software features. In March 2014, IBM made available the FlashSystem V840, which is the storage enclosure combined with the FlashSystem control enclosure, to provide data services such as compression, mirroring, thin provisioning and replication. This usage of the SVC for the FlashSystem control enclosure follows a pattern within IBM’s storage division, where the SVC is placed on top of many IBM products (such as the DS8000, Storwize V7000 and XIV storage arrays) to provide a common and interoperable platform abstracting the diverse products beneath it, an approach that has internal cost and reuse advantages. However, with such a diverse number of devices, the complexity of managing compatibility, fixes, and software and hardware regression testing between an exponentially increasing number of software and hardware platforms increases dependencies among product lines. Basic storage controller features — such as redundant array of independent disks (RAID), hot code load, controller failover, port failover, caching and administration software — are duplicated in the storage enclosure (FlashSystem 840) and the control enclosure (SVC). Compared with competitors, IBM charges separately for higher-level features such as compression.
- Within the SSA market, the TMS platform has one of the longest proven track records with respect to array performance.
- There is a quick and short learning curve for IBM Storwize V7000 and SVC customers, because the same SVC-based management interface is used on many other key IBM storage product lines.
- IBM has successfully exploited its system company advantage and has cross-sold the FlashSystem into its customer base through direct and indirect channel incentives and bundling discounts with SVC.
- Compared with the FlashSystem V840, the FlashSystem 840 has limited data services and will require IBM or non-IBM virtualization products for data services.
- The FlashSystem 840 is dependent on the SVC product line to provide data services, such as compression, thin provisioning, snapshots and mirroring, among other features, for additional costs.
- Clients starting with the FlashSystem 840 that later decide they require extra storage features will need to purchase extra SVC-based hardware. This increases the operating expenditure (opex) considerations (such as wiring, power, cooling and physical rack space requirements) compared with the FlashSystem 840 by itself.
NetApp announced the first EF array model in February 2013, and updated it with the EF550 in November 2013, helping continue its product momentum. Compared with smaller SSA startups, NetApp was a late entrant to the SSA market. However, NetApp was able to reuse existing products and technology, as the EF Series is based on the mature E Series hardware and the SANtricity platform acquired from the acquisition of LSI’s Engenio business. This has led to an intricately managed positioning and sales challenge between the EF and FAS products. The EF Series is targeted at workloads that need high performance. Unlike the FAS Series, the EF Series is primarily sold through a direct sales force. NetApp’s customers and prospects can elect to deploy the EF Series, choose the recently productized All-Flash FAS offerings, or wait for the launch of FlashRay in late 2014. Although FlashRay has been delayed thus far, NetApp claims it will be a dedicated SSA product built from the ground up and optimized for SSD technology.
- NetApp has a deep understanding of SSDs. Its diverse portfolio of SSD offerings features good workload analysis tools that can profile applications and match them to the right products, helping customers rightsize their environments from several perspectives: reliability, availability, serviceability, manageability and performance.
- With the EF Series, NetApp has changed its pricing structure to an all-inclusive one, which simplifies license management during upgrades and long-term budgeting.
- The EF Series provides support for a wide variety of high-speed interconnect protocols, including FC, Internet SCSI (iSCSI), SAS and InfiniBand.
- With the scheduled launch of FlashRay, which has been in development for more than two years, the EF Series needs to compete for product development, marketing and sales dollars within NetApp, which raises questions about the long-term viability of the EF Series product line.
- The EF Series uses more reliable, but more expensive, enterprise-grade SSD (single-level cell [SLC] and enterprise multilevel cell [eMLC]) and, given the lack of any data reduction capabilities, it may not be cost-competitive for diverse workloads.
- The EF Series has a complex graphical user interface (GUI), compared with newer designs from competitors, and Ontap/FAS customers will require new skills to operate and administer the EF Series.
There has been a growing demand for SSAs to meet the low-latency performance requirements of enterprise- and Web-scale applications. Over the last decade, CPU performance has improved by an order of magnitude, while the performance of HDD within general-purpose storage arrays stagnated, an increasingly accentuating divergence. SSAs have corrected this imbalance by temporarily satiating the demand for storage performance. This has led to the quick and successful adoption of SSA, evidenced by the fact that the total revenue for SSA in 2013 was $667 million, with a huge year-over-year growth of 182%.
The SSA market witnessed a considerable uptake in adoption in 2013, fueled by significant and continued investments in startups and with established vendors opting to acquire emerging vendors, although some are still pursuing an organic approach to growth. Large incumbent system vendors, such as EMC, HP, IBM and NetApp, have been focused on cross selling their new SSA products to their established customers, thereby quickly obtaining large market shares. However, once this captive segment has been mined, a vendor’s ability to grow market share in the long term will be predicated on overall product ability, sales bandwidth and execution as it competes outside its installed base. Nearly half of the vendors in this Magic Quadrant have pursued a vertically integrated approach based upon direct procurement of SSD memory, with the remaining vendors choosing to outsource the SSD storage and procure functionality from external suppliers to focus on an SSD-optimized data management software strategy.
Between 2010 and 2012, most customers were interested primarily in high-performance and low-latency SSAs. Given the lack of available data management features, customers tolerated the feature shortcomings in favor of raw performance. As initial storage performance issues were capably addressed, customers wanted to address multiple application workloads that required a rich data management software portfolio consisting not only of storage efficiency and resiliency technologies purpose-built for SSAs, but also the underlying SSD memory technology. During 2013, we witnessed the advent of comprehensive data management software features, such as deduplication, compression, thin provisioning, snapshots and replication technologies that, when specifically tailored to SSD, can provide compelling benefits, particularly in application workloads that see favorable data reduction ratios. This trend of innovative and comprehensive data management software on the more mature SSA platforms has continued into 2014, and has started to permeate at the application level, which will drive the industry in 2015 and beyond. It is through the synergy of cost-effective hardware and purpose-built software that the industry will see further consolidation in order to reach maturation.
As this market matures and SSAs gain feature equivalency with general-purpose arrays, we expect decreasing differentiation between general-purpose storage arrays and SSAs. Vendors of general-purpose arrays product lines and server SSD cards have created specific array models full of SSD media. These models are tactical implementations that enable the vendors to market directly into the SSA segment, while they create longer-term strategies or create purpose-built SSAs. If these vendors maintain their investments in these general-purpose array SSD variations over a longer period and they prove not to be a viable tactical stopgap, they may need to create specific SSAs. The SSA market is distinct. It has matured from the early solid-state appliance offerings, because the data services provided are equivalent and, in certain cases (such as data reduction and administration), offer richer and improved features than general-purpose storage arrays. SSAs have matured to levels competitive with general-purpose storage arrays in all but scale. The average usable capacity of the SSA purchased is approximately 38TB. The preferred connection protocol is Fibre Channel: 63% of all SSAs attach to servers use Fibre Channel, and 33% use the iSCSI protocol. NFS and Common Internet File System (CIFS) attach are, therefore, rarely used. Online transaction processing (OLTP), analytics and server virtualization are the top three workloads that customers consider for SSAs, with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) being the fourth most popular workload. While a majority of SSA deployments are for a single workload, Gartner is seeing interest in converging multiple workloads on the same product, which, in many cases, are being enabled by features such as QoS.
Vendors Products Portfolios
The XtremIO product was designed from inception to efficiently use external SSDs and currently uses robust, but more costly, enterprise SAS eMLC SSDs to deliver sustained and consistent performance. It has a purpose-built, performance-optimized scale-out architecture that leverages content-based addressing to achieve inherent balance, always-on and in-line data reduction, optimal resource utilization in its storage layout, a flash-optimized data protection scheme called XDP, and a very modern, simple-to-use graphical user interface (GUI). XtremIO arrays presently scale out to six X-Bricks, with each X-Brick having dual controllers providing a total of 120TB of physical flash, measured before the space-saving benefits of thin provisioning, data reduction and space-efficient writable snapshots. The addition of nodes currently requires a system outage, and upgrades to some version 3 features such as compression will also require a disruptive upgrade, which EMC will mitigate with professional services to avoid interruptions to hosts and applications. Compared with similar EMC scale-out product architectures, such as the Isilon scale-out array, which stores data across nodes and therefore can sustain a node outage, in an XtremIO cluster, blocks of data cannot be accessed if a single X-Brick has a complete outage, such as a simultaneous loss of both controllers, because data is stored only once on a single X-Brick.
The lower-capacity 46TB VNX-F is based on the existing VNX unified general-purpose disk array. It has postprocess deduplication and a relatively more complex management interface due to the requirement to support the legacy (or its inherited) VNX architecture. We do not expect the VNX-F SSA and general-purpose VNX software and hardware architectures to diverge. As a result of the requirement for the software and hardware to support two different models/forks, new software features may take longer to become available due to the increased complexity of supporting two separate product lines and storage formats that use the same software stack and may require different fixes and firmware upgrades.
HP 3PAR StoreServ 7450
The 7450 is based on the HP StoreServ general-purpose array architecture, which leverages HP’s proprietary application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and additional DRAM capacity. The design uses a memory-mapping look-up implementation similar to an operating system’s virtual to physical RAM translation, which is media-independent and lends itself well to virtual memory-mapping media such as SSDs. This is a particularly compelling attribute because of its efficient usage of the external SSDs by reducing the amount of overprovisioning required, as well as enabling a lean cost structure by leveraging consumer-grade MLC SSD. Another added benefit is maximizing SSD endurance as the granular, systemwide wear leveling extends the durability of the less reliable consumer MLC (cMLC) SSD media. Due to the media-independent memory-mapping 3PAR storage software architecture, which is implemented on SSD and general-purpose array models, we do not expect a software bifurcation. However, with more model variations, there will be longer testing and qualification periods.
The system scales to larger capacities than most competitors, with a maximum raw capacity of 460TB when configured with 1.9TB SSDs. The array does not currently have full in-line deduplication and compression, but does exploit existing 3PAR zero block bit pattern matching and thin provisioning to improve storage efficiency. The array performs well in shared environments due to its mature multitenancy and quality of service (QoS) features. However, no file protocols are supported. Pricing of all data services is tied to the general-purpose array 3PAR model and is based on host and capacity, making it complex compared to new entrants. The 3PAR 7450 platform has an extensive and proven compatibility matrix and reliability track record that is supported with a six 9s (99.9999%) high-availability guarantee during the first 12 months.
IBM FlashSystem V840
The FlashSystem family consists of the older 700 series and the newer 800 series SSA, and all models only support block protocols. The FlashSystem 840 has more connection options with QDR InfiniBand in addition to FC, FCoE and iSCSI connections. Alternatively, the FlashSystem V840, which adds in IBM’s SVC, can scale to 320TB due to the internal FlashSystem Control Enclosure, and it inherits the broad SVC compatibility matrix but only supports FC protocols. Similarly, the V840 has richer data services in terms of QoS, compression, thin provisioning, snapshots and replication features, whereas the 840 lacks these. The 840 is designed to be a simple performance-oriented point product, whereas the V840 is for more general-purpose deployments. Both, however, lack deduplication. Additional features are provided by IBM’s SVC product, FlashSystem Control Enclosure, which has a simple-to-learn-and-operate administrative GUI.
The addition of control enclosures with the V840 increases the number of separate products and components that come with the SVC layer, which reduces performance when using real-time compression compared to the 840. The SVC control enclosure layer increases product complexity, as it has separate software levels that need to be maintained and tested across IBM storage product families. In V840-based configurations, customers need to administer and operate two devices: (1) the control enclosure; and (2) the storage enclosure, which also increases system complexity, product upgrades and problem determination.
NetApp EF Series
NetApp’s EF Series is an all-SSD version of the E-Series, a product line that NetApp inherited as part of the Engenio acquisition. There are two models in the EF product line — the EF540, which was launched in early 2013, and the EF550, which was launched in late 2013 with an SSD hardware refresh. The EF Series runs the SANtricity operating system and has its own management GUI. The product supports FC, iSCSI and InfiniBand. NetApp has made changes to the software to monitor SSD wear life and recently expanded the scalable raw capacity to 192TB. The EF Series product doesn’t support any data reduction features. Existing NetApp OnCommand suite customers cite the need for improvement in the SANtricity management console. Given the focus of the EF Series on high-bandwidth workloads, InfiniBand has been a prominent interface, but now FC implementations have become the predominant interface as end-user acceptance of the product broadened. The long-term viability of the EF Series as a product line will remain in question, with NetApp’s all-new FlashRay set for launch toward the end of the year with potentially better data services and manageability.