Developing high-performance, low-latency flash storage arrays is not that difficult, as shown by the large number of startups in this part of the storage industry, NetApp's Pawlowski said.
The challenge is to get a strategy and a technology that brings together all the different facets that enable flash storage arrays to work in an enterprise environment with other storage technologies such as NetApp's Data ONTAP-based storage systems, something the many companies that NetApp looked at do not have, he said.
There are about 50 startup flash storage array vendors, but there are gaps in their capabilities, Pawlowski said.
"One company might have scale-out capabilities, but no management integration," he said. "One company has dedupe, but not scale-out. These are not things you can add on. We would have to retro-fit these if we acquired another company. The retrofitting would have taken the same time for us to build from scratch."
Another thing missing from all the startups is the kind of enterprise support customers expect from high-end storage systems, Pawlowski said.
"Others are looking at flash technology as a technology problem," he said. "We are looking at it as a solution problem. The support strategy is so critical. Startups pay less attention to what they consider secondary things. We look at these as a whole. The support capabilities have to be in there."
Because of the need for support, Pawlowski brought Ty McConney, vice president of product operations, to his team from his previous position as head of NetApp operations in the Asia-Pacific region where he set up the company's support organization there.
McConney said that enterprises are already testing flash storage arrays from all the startups, and at least one big NetApp customers said it would use arrays from one particular startup just because it believed that NetApp would buy that startup.
"Enterprises want performance and speed, but they don't want risks," he said. "They'll buy from the startups, but not deploy them globally because of the risk involved."
NetApp is building FlashRay to win, Pawlowski said. "We'll win on the merits," he said. "We're not going to say, 'We're NetApp, so buy this.'"
Developing FlashRay in-house allowed NetApp to start fresh on developing technology to provide the full range of enterprise storage services such as deduplication, compression and thin provisioning that conserve storage capacity differently from disk-based arrays because of flash memory wear, Pawlowski said.
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