NetApp and EMC Duel to the Death for Data Domain

NetApp’s initial bid for Data Domain came as a surprise to many. EMC’s counter was even more of a shock. These discussions have very important implications for data protection and deduplication. Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

It’s hard to do deduplication well.
EMC and NetApp say that they have robust deduplication solutions in their DL3D (Quantum technology) and NearStore VTL series products. Before these negotiations, you might have believed them. Now, they are both bidding aggressively on Data Domain. What does that say about their confidence in their own solutions? Remember, these are large companies with hundreds (thousands?) of engineers with storage experience. Why wouldn’t they just build their own deduplication technology? The simple answer is that developing really good, enterprise-class deduplication technology is difficult.

The sheer size and complexity of large enterprise backup environments makes deduplication significantly more challenging than for small SME backups. Unlike enterprises, smaller environments have lower expectations for performance and capacity; simpler backup, retention, and restore requirements; and little need for global dedupe or huge single-system capacity scalability. Data Domain focuses on the smaller environments and whoever acquires them will not have a solution for large enterprises.

Deduplication is a must-have technology for the enterprise.
Many large vendors have tried to downplay deduplication as a simple feature. Ironically, it is this feature that built Data Domain. Clearly deduplication is invaluable. In fact, it is so important that EMC and NetApp are locked in a battle over it.

I believe that these two points are the key implications for this bidding war. In the future, I will provide additional thoughts about the winner.

One reply on “NetApp and EMC Duel to the Death for Data Domain”

I agree wholeheartedly, the very fact of these competing bids, at a mind-boggling price premium on both sides, implies that existing de-dupe solutions from both vendors have obvious flaws and drawbacks.

Actually, this isn’t really news for many of us who pretty much ignore press releases and published “maximum” speeds and feeds, since they just about never portray the reality seen in independent lab tests or POCs.

Netapp buys Alacritus, which was a credible de-dupe startup. Probably the most attractive thing about Alacritus at the time was that it was just SW. You could run it on the newest, fastest x86 servers, and throw just about any decent, cheap, utility storage behind it, and have a workable and cost-effective VTL solution, albeit from a no-name player (or players, if the SAN gear was no-name).

Netapp promptly ditches the “any server, any storage” part (the two best features), released it on their “heads” (huge price bump), and their disks (huge price bump), limiting the horsepower to “last years” or “the year before last year’s” processors and I/O, and then wondered why nobody wanted it. Hmmmm. Odd.

EMC does effectively the same thing with ADIC and Quantum, although ADIC/Quantum never had an attractively priced offering pre-EMC. But in the end, storage vendors want to sell THEIR disks and arrays, and so the pricing on the Pathlight VTL and the CDL ended up roughly doubling from the already premium pricing that ADIC had been charging. Adding Quantum de-dupe to the CDL line wasn’t free or even cheap either.

I expect that EMC spent a couple of $M analyzing why nobody wanted the CDL with Quantum de-dupe magic, but anybody could have told them that performance that is the depths of adequacy and premium+ pricing is a very bad combination, and that sane people will look for alternatives when somebody tries to shove that combination down their throats.

So, naturally, they both put out glowing press releases and tons of collateral about how optimal and best-in-class and amazing their VTL de-dupe products are. I mean, SOME people buy based on sales glossies, right? So paper over the planet with them, and pretend to the point of believing your own press releases that you have the killer app. Tell your partners, your sales force, and your analysts the same thing. Bet it all that nobody will mention the so-called clothing that the Emperor is not wearing.

All for naught…

The frenzied bidding war for a low-end player with a credible market share, decent growth, and an actual, defensible good story basically throws all the FUD and blubber of both storage giants out the window. All that varnish, lovingly applied to the bovine fecal matter is suddenly shown for what it is, and everybody should suddenly question more or less every statement or press release made by either Netapp or EMC, since they were clearly misstating/prevaricating/embellishing/whatever before.

The really amusing thing in all this is that Sepaton is the real prize in the de-dupe VTL world, especially given how Netapp and EMC vie for the largest and most demanding customers. Sepaton has a very good de-dupe story, an even better capacity/scale story, and the best HA story in the VTL/de-dupe space. While DDUP sells tons of small appliances to SMB and small enterprise, where neither Netapp or EMC really want to play, Sepaton pretty much only sells into much larger shops, and is one of the few players (along with maybe Copan) to really meet the scalability needs of large and extremely large enterprises around the world. And only Sepaton has the performance to pull it off… period.

Netapp, EMC, one last thing: it turns out that if you season and baste the crow you are both about to eat for the next several months, it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. But do mind the beaks and claws, they can be difficult to digest, and cause tummyaches…

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