Flash Debrief: The End (part 1)

Seven years ago this month, I created a blog and online presence called flashdba to mark the start of my journey away from Oracle databases (and DBAing) into the newly-born All-Flash Storage industry. Six years ago this month, I posted the first in what transpired to be a very long blog series attempting to explain the concepts of All Flash to those few who were interested. At least, I always assumed it would be a few, but now here we are in 2019 and the flashdba.com blog has been read over a million times, referenced in all sorts of surprising places and alluded to by Chris Mellor at The Register. One of my articles even (allegedly) got a mention by Mark Hurd during an Oracle forecast call!

But now, for various reasons that I will explain later, it’s time to draw it to a conclusion.

Review

Wow! What a ride it’s been, huh? Seven years ago, I joined a company called Violin Memory who were at the forefront of the infant (or should that be infantile?) flash industry. At one point, Violin had a global partnership with HP to make an “Exadata-killer” machine and had a valuation estimated to be around $2bn. EMC even wrote a secret briefing document in which they said, “Violin … is XtremIO’s #1 competitor in the all-flash storage market”. Meanwhile, numerous other small flash companies were being acquired for ridiculous, crazy and obscene money despite often being “pre-product” or pre-GA.So it took a particularly special effort for Violin Memory to take that head start and end up in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2016. (The company is reborn as Violin Systems now, of course – and I still have friends there, so out of respect for them I have to keep my Violin stories under wraps. Which is a shame, because boy do I have some great stories…)divorce

Meanwhile, back in 2015, I’d decided to leave Violin Memory and join another All Flash pioneer, Kaminario – where I remain today. It’s fair to say that Violin Memory didn’t appreciate that decision, with the result that I had to spend a lot of time dealing with their lawyers. You feel very small when you are a sole person engaged in a legal dispute with a corporation who can afford an expensive legal team – you become enormously aware of the difference in spending power (although, in hindsight, perhaps Violin could have used those legal fees elsewhere to better effect). So, when the CEO of Kaminario interrupted his family holiday to call me and assure me that they would stand by me throughout the dispute, it left me with a real glimpse into the different in culture between my former employer and my current one. Also, Kaminario’s lawyers were a lot better!

The Flash Storage Wars (available now as a boxset)

The road from 2012 to 2019 is littered with the bloody carcasses of failed flash companies. From the disasters (Violin Memory, Skyera, FusionIO, Tintri, Whiptail, DSSD) to the acquisitions (Texas Memory Systems, XtremIO, Virident, SolidFire, Nimble) – not all of which could be considered successful – to the home-grown products which never really delivered (I’m looking at you, Oracle FS1). One company, Pure Storage, managed to beat the odds, ride out some stormy times and go from startup to fully-established player, although following their IPO the stock market has never really given them a lot of love. Meanwhile, EMC – the ultimate big dog of storage – was acquired by Dell, while HP split into two companies and NetApp continued to be linked with an acquisition by Lenovo or Cisco. Someday, somebody is going to turn the whole story into a boxset and sell it to Netflix for millions. Game of Thrones eat your heart out.

Yet there can be no doubt that All Flash itself has succeeded in its penetration of the previously disk-dominated enterprise storage market, with IDC regularly reporting huge year-on-year growth figures (e.g. 39.3% between Q3-2017 and Q4-2018). I vividly remember, back in 2012, having to explain to every prospective customer what flash was and why it was important. Today, every prospect has already decided they want All Flash. In fact, AFAs have become so mainstream now that, starting this year, Gartner will be merging its Solid State Array Magic Quadrant with the more traditional MQ for General-Purpose Disk Arrays. It just doesn’t make sense to have two separate models now.

So Who Won?

Good question. Was it DellEMC, the biggest company in storage and the current #1 in market share? Was it Pure Storage, who led Gartner’s most recent Solid State Array Magic Quadrant (but have it all to lose when the SSA MQ merges with the general-purpose MQ)? Or was it any number of investors and venture capitalists who managed to make money on the back of such market disruption? It’s a subjective question so you can choose your own answer. But for me, it’s very clear that there was only one winner… and back in 2012 we had no idea (although my old boss called it over a decade ago… I should have paid more attention). The ultimate winner of this war – and many other wars besides – is the cloud.

In part two – the final ever blog in this series (and possibly at all – spoiler alert), I’ll explain why I think the cloud is the ultimate winner… and why I’m calling time on flashdba after all these years. Wipe away those tears, my friends – not long now.

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