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Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: In Data Deduplication, Dell Surprises, EMC Lags

IT pros we surveyed rank Dell/Compellent high on value but ding EMC/Data Domain on value, flexibility, and features.

Data deduplication repeats a pattern we've seen dozens of times. A startup introduces a new technology, and soon after--depending on the size of the potential market segment--anywhere from five to 25 other startups spring up to exploit various aspects, implementations, and price points. When the startups get big enough, market incumbents that didn't invest early in their own versions of the technology buy up segment leaders, leaving a few specialists to thrive while the others eventually die off.

Data deduplication is now in that final stage, a point it has reached remarkably quickly in the perpetually conservative storage market.

As we launched our IT Pro Ranking survey for data deduplication, we wanted to identify the features most important to IT professionals and see whether vendors are meeting their needs. We asked about 18 vendors, getting responses from 440 IT pros, but for the purposes of our vendor analysis, we received enough responses to rate only eight of them.

Our survey calculates two separate rankings: one for general satisfaction and one for technology-specific features. In overall satisfaction, Dell/Compellent topped the ranking while EMC/Data Domain came in last place. In the features ranking, IBM/ProtecTier, NetApp, and Hewlett-Packard came out on top, while Dell/Compellent and EMC/Data Domain finished last.

The explanation for Dell's far-flung results: While its product gets dinged for features, it's seen as highly reliable, a good performer, and cost effective. Meanwhile, EMC/Data Domain is seen as reliable and a high performer but also as costly and inflexible.

All of the vendors do pretty well on features; they all rate between 3.3 and 3.9 on our 5-point scale. But we also asked IT pros to rate each feature on its importance. Replication and encryption support are at the top of the list, while virtual tape library functionality and FCoE support are at the bottom.

So when IBM, NetApp, and HP top our feature rankings, it's not because they support all features on our list better than the others do, but because they do well on the features that matter most to you, or at least to our survey respondents. In the end, the best use for these results may be as a mechanism to question the vendors on your short list about key features. It's not a surprise that Dell does better than EMC on acquisition price, but you might want to understand why almost every vendor in our survey does better than EMC/Data Domain on gateway functionality.

The bottom line is that early adopters like data deduplication technology, and, particularly for applications such as backup and replication, it works as advertised, reducing storage traffic over the network in backup stores.

We also conducted a separate survey on data deduplication. In that survey, more than 70% of the 209 respondents said they're satisfied or very satisfied with the technology, while about a quarter are neutral, saying the technology is promising but could use improvement. That leaves just a tiny fraction--2%--who said they're unsatisfied.

In our 2010 survey, 54% of respondents reported an ROI breakeven of a year or less. In 2011, that percentage dropped to 43%. The implication is that many of those companies with obvious needs have implemented the technology, and now as the technology is picked up by a more general audience, the cost of adding deduplication to an existing environment must be carefully weighed against perceived advantages. See our full survey at informationweek.com/reports/dedupeappliances.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Reports, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at awittmann@techweb.com.

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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