STORAGE

  • 06/02/2015
    8:00 AM
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Gartner All-Flash Array Magic Quadrant: A Bad Influence

The market analyst firm's Magic Quadrant for all-flash storage arrays is based on criteria that hamstring vendors and reduce customer choice.

It should come as a surprise to no one that Gartner, as the biggest IT analyst/advisory firm, has a lot of influence over what its clients, and less directly the rest of the IT world, buy. In recent conversations with senior executives of several storage vendors, I've become concerned that by arbitrarily defining market segments, Gartner is not only influencing what its client do buy, but also what products they -- and the rest of us -- can buy.

I've written before about Gartner Magic Quadrants and how technologists misread them as a product buyer’s guide rather than the general advice to Fortune 500 CIOs that Gartner analysts intend them to be. I frankly don't have a problem with the global CIO CYA strategy that moves a vendor up on the “ability to execute” scale if it has a support organization in sub-Saharan Africa.

My problem is with how Gartner defines a market I think I understand pretty well -- the all-flash array --  and how many vendors are so driven to be included in the analysis that they design products to fit Gartner’s definitions even when they believe that there is, or might be, customer demand for something else.

When publishing its first Magic Quadrant for all-flash arrays, Gartner made decisions on which products qualified that seem to be based more on the products' marketing than their capabilities. The problem starts with the fact that the folks at Gartner decided that to be an all-flash array, and therefore included in the Magic Quadrant, a vendor had to offer an all-flash array as a separate product with a unique model name and model number.

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Gartner even lists vendors that make “SSD” storage arrays that didn't qualify for the MQ such as Dell and NetApp, implying that a SSD array like  a Dell Compellent is somehow less than a real all-flash array like Pure Storage's or an EMC VNXF, even though the flash in those systems is packaged in SAA SSDs, just like the flash in a Dell Compellent SC2040.

As an IT architect, this makes no sense to me. When choosing the product (or products) I want to solve my storage performance problem, I don't care if they have a unique product name or share the name with a hybrid, or even all-disk, system using the same architecture. All I care about is that the storage system provides the performance and features that address the problem I'm trying to solve.

While the unique product name and number criterion was arbitrary, analysts do have to draw the line somewhere. Gartner’s inclusion criteria also state that the vendor must offer an all- flash array -- fair enough, it is after all the Magic Quadrant for all-flash arrays. However, I object to Gartner's insistence that the system “cannot be reconfigured, expanded or upgraded at any point with any form of HDDs within expansion trays via any vendor's special upgrade, specific customer customization or vendor product exclusion process into a hybrid or general-purpose SSD and HDD storage array.”

These criteria mean that EMC VNX-F qualifies as an all-flash array while the all-flash versions of NetApp’s flagship FAS don't, even though the VNX-F and all-flash FAS are as directly competitive, and comparable, as any two storage systems on the market.  Both are the latest versions of unified storage systems filled with SSDs and most storage architects that were considering VNX-F would also look at an all-flash FAS.

In talking to senior executives at several storage vendors, I've discovered that these frankly stupid criteria are not just keeping products off the Magic Quadrant, but also keeping more flexible products off the market. In order to meet Gartner's criteria, storage vendors are selling separate all-flash and hybrid storage products even when they run basically the same software.

The net result is that customers of Agile Storage who buy an Agile-F AFA and later decide they want to add a couple of shelves of 7200 RPM disks to hold their colder data are screwed. Agile has to refuse to sell them, or even allow them to install the spinning disks as a “customer modification.” That would make the Agile-F a mere SSD array, not an AFA, and push it off Gartner's AFA Magic Quadrant.

Who the heck -- and those of you who know me know that heck was not my first choice of words -- is Gartner to tell vendors they have to name their products a specific way, and worse, that they must reduce the flexibility they offer their customers? Today's data center is a much more dynamic environment than in the past and vendors should be boosting, not cutting back on product flexibility.

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