John Taffinder has joined 3PAR as general manager for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), from HDS where he was an executive VP and general manager for EMEA. He’s moved from ‘large’ to ‘little’, which is an interesting choice. We asked him what lay behind it.

Techworld: Why have you joined 3PAR? What are the firm's strengths such that it represents a good bet for the future?
JT: “I joined 3PAR because it has the best chance to be the first new storage platform company of the 21st century. The technology is outstanding and there is a great opportunity to build a really successful business in EMEA.”

A main attribute of 3PAR’s InServ product is its virtualisation. There is much activity in the market with EMC announcing its InVista fabric-based virtualization, and IBM Sun and HDS announcing multi-vendor virtualization. We asked Taffinder about virtualization approaches.

Techworld: How necessary is (disk) storage virtualisation and why is it needed?
JT: “Storage virtualisation is very important, as it is the only viable option for addressing the ballooning size of storage infrastructures within constrained budgets and shortages of skilled administrators.”

“The issue is how to implement virtualisation. On one hand there are those who advocate fabric-based virtualisation. The promise here is that your existing infrastructure will become an easily managed storage pool and that your dependencies on array vendors - otherwise known as vendor lock-in - will loosen.”

“The problem with this approach is that it actually increases complexity, compromises availability, and merely shifts lock-in to another point in the infrastructure. Not only are customers adding an incremental layer of management, but the new devices, since they sit in the data or metadata path, create new issues. These include new silos of infrastructure that must be carefully scaled, and uncertainty about the location of and responsibility for your data under error conditions.”

“Not only does this approach quickly get complex, but strict change management becomes an absolute necessity. 3PAR’s CEO David Scott refers to this as being 'brittle'.”

“Using these devices strictly for discrete data services such as heterogeneous migration or replication is one thing, but relying on them for heterogeneous SAN rationalisation is quite another. “

“The 3PAR approach is very different as it provides an integrated virtualisation and storage solution in a massively scalable tiered-storage array. This means that 3PAR alone is responsible for providing the necessary availability and performance. Because our virtualisation layer understands the physical layout of disk, it can automatically create volumes with the right levels of availability and performance in a very short period of time and in a simple manner with no pre-planning.”

“What this means is that most of the complex tasks such as provisioning and even failure management can be fully automated, therefore dramatically simplifying storage management. If we go back to the reasons why virtualisation is so important, the benefits of this approach speak for themselves. 3PAR customers routinely cut 85 percent to 95 percent of their storage administration burden.”

TW: What do you think of other virtualisation approaches in general?
JT: “The critical issue is how one intends to use them. We see value in providing discrete services around migration or data replication. And for those purposes all of these products have varying degrees of price, performance, and support. However, used as complete SAN pooling tools, these products offer significant risks and drawbacks.“

“Based on early reports of actual usage, I think the marketplace has figured this out. For example we hear of users sticking to 1:1 mappings of underlying volumes to presented volumes, effectively avoiding the complexities of trying to create a single pool with these devices.”

Techworld: Is it necessary to have a strong virtualisation layer to be considered a primary storage vendor by enterprises?
JT: “Not if you have already integrated this within the box as 3PAR has.”

Techworld: How good are the various virtualisation technologies at effective disk provisioning?
JT: “It’s again a matter of complexity. The fabric-based approach is an incremental provisioning layer on top of the RAID arrays themselves. Nothing goes away. You now have more elements to manage and scale properly in order to achieve desired service levels. We've already touched on the risk surrounding availability.”

“On the other hand, 3PAR's tightly integrated approach enables you to provision disk volumes easily and quickly with fully-automated levels of availability and performance, as well as allowing you to change levels of service dynamically.”

“In fact, with 3PAR Thin Provisioning, customers have the opportunity to allocate storage for the lifetime of an application. Through the advantages of a tightly integrated approach, raw capacity is configured and consumed in fine increments only as applications actually write data. So there is a significant utilisation benefit here besides an administrative one.”

Techworld: Does multi-vendor virtualisation matter? What are its limitations?
JT: “The "dream" of multi-vendor virtualisation sounds alluring, but it is it really necessary? There is an emerging multi-vendor standard called SMI-S that offers simplified heterogeneous storage management and provisioning. Its advantages are that it requires no incremental layers in the SAN and it is a standard. The openness and ubiquity of standards is what makes the promise of SMI-S so powerful. As this standard continues to develop and be implemented, I think we'll see the tide subside on multi-vendor virtualisation because the fundamental problem will be addressed simply and efficiently.”

It’s possible that SMI-S will never develop to the point where it provides APIs that enable multi-vendor virtualization. Where customers have disk storage from multiple vendors then multi-vendor virtualization will be attractive. It may well be more attractive than moving to single vendor virtualization as you can play off drive array vendors to get better prices.

We asked Taffinder about NAS. He was firm about NAS limitations as he saw them.

Techworld: What are your thoughts on NAS use by enterprises?
JT: “I find that, despite the noise currently found around NAS, this technology is not really scalable enough for the critical enterprise users.”

Techworld: Is SAN and NAS convergence happening? Why?
JT: “No, there a clear delineation between the two which is growing rather than narrowing.”

Techworld: Okay. What effect will this have on vendors like NetApp?
JT: “The market becomes limited which is why NetApp is focusing on alliances with other enterprise disk vendors.”

Network Appliance is a very large vendor in the storage market. 3PAR is quite a small one. For it to become ‘the first new storage platform company of the 21st century’ will require a lot of growth.

TW: Isn't 3PAR too small to make a strong impression on the storage market? How will it grow?
JT: “3PAR has grown and will continue to grow through customer references, focused sales and marketing, and well-planned geographic expansion. We are growing very rapidly and acquiring marquee accounts such as Merrill Lynch, SAVVIS, WPP Group, CGI, and CNET, many of which are adopting 3PAR as their standard throughout their organisations.”

The growth could be affected by product features migrating to the mid-range market.

Techworld: Is it inexorable that enterprise storage features and functions migrate to the mid-range? How will this affect 3PAR?
JT: “The trade-off between price and feature/function which currently delineates the enterprise and midrange markets will eventually result in a continuum which eliminates this division.”

In other words as enterprise-class features, which justify higher prices, migrate to the mid-range than volume sales replace premium pricing as the main revenue source.

The issue for any 'David' trying to become a 'Goliath' is to present distincive and advantageous differences from the various Goliaths around and keep them distinctive while you grow. Is 3PAR's approach of integrated virtualisation in scalable storage good enough to accomplish this task? It seems to Techworld that enterprises using NAS and valuing multi-vendor virtualisation ideas may take issue with what Taffinder says. Others may prefer to have integrated storage from one vendor. Whether 3PAR will be that vendor and whether its technology and products power it to storage superstardom remains to be seen.