IT is changing, with new avenues for sales from cloud service providers and devops rising just as traditional datacenters are declining. But I’m always puzzled when a company tells me they’re selling their boxes into the cloud services market. If there’s a trend for cloud service infrastructure, it’s using commodity hardware, not proprietary appliances. These vendors had better get their heads on straight!
So it was for SolidFire. I love their product, one of the very few storage solutions out there that combines a really reliable and scalable architecture with novel ways of “doing storage.” But I never really bought into their claims of populating the datacenters of big cloud services with their hardware. For one thing, I didn’t see many cloud services claiming to use SolidFire. For another, it just made no sense.
Cloud Services versus Service Providers
Before it sounds like I’m down on SolidFire, let me explain. It all comes down to the difference between cloud services and cloud service providers!
There are really two different businesses bundled under the “cloud service provider” label: Service providers (focused on maximizing value to customers) and cloud services (focused on minimizing their own cost). The former include both public cloud providers and internal IT, and both are represented abundantly on the SolidFire Resources page; they will happily explain how a quality of service guarantee gives them a marketable differentiator. But the latter are the big fish, companies like Facebook, eBay, Google, and Apple. They don’t tend to brag about their component suppliers, sure, but they also don’t really care about these vendors. They just want to give their users the best service at the lowest cost.
What Cloud Service Companies Want
These cloud service companies have been very vocal about not wanting anything to do with proprietary hardware. They started the Open Compute Project to eliminate all branded hardware from their environments, starting with servers but including networking and (yes) storage. The last thing these guys want is a proprietary storage appliance.
SolidFire had to create a software-only version of their arrays for the mega cloud service companies, and that’s exactly what they just did. ElementX is exactly the same software SolidFire runs on their branded hardware, but now they are willing to entertain other platforms, too. If one of those big fish is sick of writing their own storage solution or trying to wring serious performance out of the popular open source options, they can work with SolidFire to port ElementX to whatever hardware they like.
This is huge for SolidFire who effectively had a “glass ceiling” in the cloud services market. They were selling into service providers just fine and had begun to attack the enterprise datacenter market, but there was no way they were going to sell to the really big cloud companies. Now they might. That’s not a win, but it’s the path to one.
Disclaimer: SolidFire brought me to Boulder for their analyst day, paying for my airfare, hotel, meals, and such. They’re also a Tech Field Day sponsor. But so are their competitors, and no one can buy space on my blog.