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IBM SONAS On Life Support As BlueArc Goes To HDS

You may have heard of an oddly named storage product from IBM called SONAS. It stands for Scale-Out NAS. I’m concerned that, like with so many other monolithic products, SONAS may be out of gas--as HDS fills up its tank with higher octane from BlueArc. As always, there’s more to the story of the BlueArc acquisition than meets the eye.

Regardless of the fact that its name sounds like a medication for rheumatoid arthritis and it seems like engineering had a strong hand in developing the product name, word on the street is that SONAS is gasping for breath within the world of IBM and continuing to miss its quarterly sales targets. A number of industry contacts are pointing to technical limitations and misguided positioning as the key reasons for SONAS’ lack of customer acceptance and minimal traction—despite it being on the market in various forms for the last two years.

Apparently, IBM upper management realized that SONAS was floundering and lobbed in a bid to acquire BlueArc. Doing so would have enabled IBM to get off the NetApp
NAS train and leverage some competitive, high-end NAS IP of its own. But, apparently, since Hitachi had the first right of refusal due to an investment in BlueArc years ago, Hitachi was able to counter IBM’s bid and lock up BlueArc for close to $600 million. Winner: Hitachi. Loser: IBM.

Up until yesterday, SONAS was basically IBM NAS software on a server combined with hardware from DataDirect Networks. Well, it looks like since IBM failed to acquire BlueArc, it’s back to trying to re-tool SONAS and squeeze more life out of its troublesome existence. Just yesterday IBM dumped DDN from SONAS and is now sourcing the disk back end from NetApp, further juggling the product specs around and confusing customers. In my opinion, this is yet another example of this struggling product not being on solid ground with ongoing changes trying to salvage the offering in the hopes that sales will finally take off--someday.

In my opinion, SONAS is not designed for the cloud, and this whole "cloud in a box" positioning we see in the industry can be nonsensical. A cloud is supposed to be available on demand, distributed worldwide and based on policies. SONAS is just like other scale-out NAS boxes in that you have to figure out everything before you buy it and put down all your cash up front. You can’t use what you need on SONAS and then give the rest back to IBM and ask for a refund. True cloud has elasticity with metered billing where you can scale up
and down on-demand—SONAS does not.

So while IBM talks a good "on-demand" story, the SystemStorage guys have gotten SONAS all wrong.

As I indicated in an earlier post, monolithic scale-out NAS is definitely out of gas. And just like other aging boxes out there, SONAS looks like it’s headed for the recycling bin, in my opinion.