Storage Showdown: Top Vendor Execs Get Heated About Whose Storage Vision Is Best

No surprise -- storage executives from some of the leading vendors didn't necessarily agree on the future of the market.

The executives faced off at a recent storage panel held at a Raymond James investor conference in New York City. Sitting on the panel was a who's who of storage vendor executives, including Chad Sakac, senior vice presdient of EMC Global Sales Engineering; Howard Ting, senior vice president of marketing and product management at Nutanix;, Dave Wright, CEO of SolidFire; and Ken Klein, CEO of Tintri.

The conversation quickly got heated as the executives debated the future of the storage industry. In particular, they argued whether hyper-converged infrastructure, and the goal of cutting back on complexity, was the future for all customers' storage needs.

[Related: 10 Data Center Predictions For 2015]

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Ting said Nutanix has seen a transition over the past two quarters toward embracing hyper-converged infrastructure for more significant core server workloads, where in the past it had primarily been sold for VDI. There's more variety and opportunity with more accounts running mission-critical workloads on hyper-converged infrastructure, he said.

While he agreed that it's not "one answer for everything," there is a growing number of workloads that run well in hyper-converged environments, Ting said.

EMC's Sakac said he wished he could "believe as passionately" as Ting in hyper-converged infrastructure as a solution to simplify customers' architectures, but he said there are a large set of data services that hyper-converged solutions can't replace yet. He said trying to say hyper-converged will work for all clients is too simple of an answer for a complicated storage market.

"I think that the answer that we all want, which is all things converge to one answer, is too simplified. I think that it's a complex ecosystem that we have to embrace," Sakac said.

Tintri's Klein said he had a "difference of opinion" when it comes to hyper-converged infrastructure. He said many of Tintri's big clients, including Conoco Phillips, Toyota and Chevron, "don’t believe" in the technology. The problem for those clients, he said, is that they are interested in scaling compute, storage and networking independently so they can mix and match best-of-breed technologies.

Instead, Klein argued that the focus should be more on optimizing for the virtualized workload vs. "gluing together ... hardware and hoping that it is going to scale out in the future." He said he sees the future lies more in separate, bunchable tiering based on the workload and number of VMs.

"That's where the world is going," Klein said.

SolidFire's Wright said he sees the market shifting from varied workloads with specific storage configurations to platform approaches addressing a wide variety of storage needs.

"I also believe that for more enterprises and most service providers, that would mean one performance-centric storage platform and one capacity-optimized storage platform. That will pretty much be it," Wright said.

The end goal of advancing storage technology, such as hyper-converged infrastructure, is to "attack complexity" in the data center, Nutanix's Ting said.

"We think the complexity needs to change in the data center," Ting said.

However, EMC's Sakac said the storage industry is too complex and customer needs are too diverse for there to be one answer for every customer.

"There's a human instinct where we want to reduce complexity down to more simpler states and, as a general principle, that's a good guiding principle. But our view across the entire set of customers that we serve is workloads are wildly divergent -- one answer cannot serve them all," Sakac said. "If anyone says that one way is the right way for all customers and all workloads at that customer, I think they're smoking something," Sakac continued.

The one thing that all the vendor executives could agree on? There's plenty of opportunity out there for all of them.

"It comes down to workloads all vary. It really is dependent, and frankly that's why we can all succeed to some extent while we all simultaneously compete," Sakac said.