Smackdown Time at SAN Soiree

Churchill Club dinner degenerates briefly into who's-your-momma? market-share arguments

June 15, 2001

4 Min Read
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PALO ALTO, Calif. Was it a panel discussion about network storage, or a computer-industry version of WWF Smackdown? For a little while Thursday night, it was a bit of both.

Normally genteel affairs, the most recent dinner sponsored by the Churchill Club (a group that regularly hosts Silicon Valley high-tech think-and-drink gatherings) plunged briefly into a who's-your-momma? discussion about market share figures, with representatives from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) the main antagonists.

Later on in the evening, the discussion shifted to more meaty topics, including the thorny questions of interoperability, and the future of Ethernet and IP-related technologies, like iSCSI (see Sneaky iSCSI Gathers Momentum). Perhaps the panelists couldn't be blamed for simply trying to outboast each other at the start, given the sophmoric level of questioning provided by the evening's moderator, Eric Pfeiffer, features editor at Forbes ASAP (first question: "Why is storage so sexy?" Pul-eeze!).

At one point, Linda Sanford, executive and senior VP, IBM Storage Systems Group, tried to claim that IBM was "winning market share from our buddies," which drew a quick, witty riposte of "Sez who?" from Donald Swatik, VP of global alliances at EMC. Sanford gave as good as she got, however, countering Swatik's claim about growing market share with a blistering retort of, "Those numbers are from [fiscal] 2000 -- how'd you do in the first quarter?"

After a couple more entertaining minutes of dubious market-share barbs, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) CEO Greg Reyes finally righted the discussion's ship by quipping, "Do we vote somebody off now?"Clearly, the several hundred-strong crowd in the filled-to-capacity ballroom already understood that storage was something they wanted to find out more about, otherwise they wouldn't have subjected themselves to a buffet dinner consumed at tables filled elbow-to-elbow. "Without a doubt, this [storage] is the next big thing," says Reyes, who has already cashed in a bit (see Spring Stock Sales: Signs of Something?). "It's a $100 billion market in the next four years."

Now pointed in a more meaningful direction, the panel – which also included Dan Warmenhoven, CEO of Network Appliance, and Jim Schraith, Chairman and CEO of Quantum Corp.'s Snap Appliances division – spent the better part of the next hour chewing on meatier topics, including whether or not Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) would emerge as a significant competitor (most agreed it would). But IBM's Sanford says interoperability, or a lack thereof, could be the single biggest limiting factor to the storage industry's growth.

"The limiter could be us, if our products don't interoperate," she told the crowd. "Our customers are increasingly vocal about interoperability."

Several panelists heralded the recent interoperability agreement between the "big six" members of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) – Brocade, IBM, EMC, Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ), Hitachi Data Systems, and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDT) – as a major step toward greater interoperability, something several panel members said was inevitable (see The Grand SAN Plan).

"You'll see the same kind of standards, like TCP/IP and Ethernet, emerge," says Network Appliance's Warmenhoven. "Storage is going to map the history of the communications industry."Whether or not those standards are exactly the same, however, is still a matter of conjecture. While the panelists agreed that IP will make inroads into storage deployments, EMC's Swatik says IP won't replace technologies like Fibre Channel anytime soon.

"It's going to take time for IP to evolve," Swatik says. "We've been doing Fibre Channel since 1997, and it already worked. iSCSI doesn't work yet, so it's going to take some time before we see products."

That means there's going to be more protocol confusion, not less, in the immediate future, in Swatik's view, a problem he contends EMC is better qualified than others to handle:

"The interoperability problem is only going to get worse before it gets better. Things are going to get more complex before they get simpler, and that's where spending $2 billion on R&D, like we have, is going to pay dividends."

Sounds like the fight might just be starting.Paul Kapustka, Editor at Large, Light Reading

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