EMC has made a big play with its announced acquisition of XtremIO for a reported $430 million. In acquiring the all-flash scale-out flash storage system vendor, EMC has made another aggressive bet in an emerging growth market. When a growth opportunity justifies making a bet, EMC is best in class at getting it done. But to assume EMC spent $430 million to simply double down on its investment in flash is shortsighted.
This deal is not just about flash. This deal is about scale. I suspect EMC’s early entry into the flash market was invaluable learning experience for understanding the opportunities and challenges posed by flash. Somewhere along the way they realized that building flash into an architecture is one thing, but building a true scale-out flash system is a whole different challenge. This is not a challenge to be solved with traditional storage controller technologies that were designed in the hard disk era.
Scale imposes an entirely different set of constraints on a system and its underlying media. Delivering consistent performance at scale, delivering efficiency and data reduction at scale, automating management at scale…each of these challenges on their own are hard enough. Solving them with a completely different media at the base of the design requires a rethink architecturally.
The timing is interesting here. As it pertains to the flash market, acquisitions at this stage of the game are much earlier than the storage industry traditionally likes to place their chips. However, the urgency with which EMC chose to strike is indicative of the market demand for more than just bolt-on solutions backed by go-to-market heft.
If this deal was just about flash, EMC had a number of different options at their disposal, including staying the course with its evolving portfolio of flash solutions while the market matured. However, the transformative nature of flash necessitated a different approach. Realizing these challenges EMC made a rich bet, but one that will eventually seem small compared to the opportunities created by scale-out flash storage.