10 September 2010

What Am I Bid for This Fair Maiden????

There's movement in the storage bin, these days.  I missed out on the 3Par explosion, by a few hours.  Alas.  Today brings STEC into the buyout rumour factory.

Such a wonderful opportunity to speculate on the future, and I won't refuse.

The assumed buyers are Dell, IBM, Oracle, EMC.  I'm not convinced that any buyout is in the making, so I didn't go and buy more.  My reasoning is simple:  I've not seen any evidence that any of the assumed players (nor any other) understand that flash SSD is useful for relational databases, done as Dr. Codd instructed.  As generic byte storage, nope.  The assumed players, especially Dell and EMC, haven't said or done anything to indicate they've made the connection.

The lack of connection is not surprising, since BCNF data storage means either green field development (a small corner of the enterprise space which consists largely of running 40 year old COBOL through DB2 or Oracle, stuffed full of simpleminded files), or refactoring those file image databases to BCNF (or something that looks an awful lot like that).  Enterprises don't do that sort of thing.  Mark Hurd (you've heard of him?) made HP "profitable" by cutting out any activity that smacked of R&D or innovation.  Larry just hired him, so that tells you all you need to know about whether Oracle would embrace SSD.

That leaves IBM as possible buyer.  STEC is qualified to IBM now.  Why would a non-storage company (IBM or Oracle or ...) want to own STEC?  The only rational reason is to own the controller IP STEC has established, and either take it off the market or re-price it significantly higher.  Re-pricing is a non-starter.  There are a number of, and growing, controller vendors, taking ever more clever approaches.  Fusion-io is one; SandForce another.  STEC's "enterprise" controller is generally believed to be superior, and has replaced other vendors.  On the other hand, STEC has been pushing its lower performing drives, the Mach class, presumably due to customer pressure to move lower priced parts.  The Zeus parts have higher margins; STEC has admitted that.

IBM buying STEC would be a watershed event.  The company has been shedding physical production for the better part of a decade, as a result bringing production in house would be immense.  They aren't likely to do that in order to sell the parts; I just don't see that.  We're left with sequestering STEC controller technology in IBM.  Could they break supply contracts with EMC, et al?  Probably not.  If they could make STEC exclusive to IBM, how would they exploit exclusive access to STEC tech?  Again, SSD isn't competitive for massive byte store.  The only way is to push the RELATIONAL part of RDBMS.  IBM hasn't shown that they get it.  Most of their database revenue (and virtually all of that growth over the last decade) has come from moving Fortune X00 companies from COBOL/VSAM to COBOL/DB2.  Such companies aren't interested in doing anything more than getting the bytes from VSAM to DB2; DCLGEN is the extent of the database design.

So, in the end, while it would make me a few bucks and rock my world, I don't see IBM buying STEC.  Dell or EMC wouldn't make any material difference, while Oracle has Sun's quasi-SSD flash appliance already.

Tempest in a teapot.


Anonymous said...

> all you need to know about whether Oracle would embrace SSD

Search for Linux btrfs.

Although I seem to remember a RedHat Europe guy ripping the Oracle devs a new one about the code, in some mailing list. Got there though an lwn.net comment, possibly.

Robert Young said...

I, too, had hopes/assumptions that btrfs was THE filesystem for SSD. This is the most recent review I could find today:


From what I've read, SSD support is small switch implementation, rather than the raison d'etre of btrfs. Early on, some years ago, there was some hype that btrfs was intended to maximize SSD power; in the sense of the Linus quote at the top of this blog. So far, that doesn't appear to be true; btrfs is a general purpose filesystem with some accommodation for SSD.

My observation was less about Oracle's previous efforts, but far more about Hurd's methods at HP, and how those methods would impact SSD embrace. I conclude that Hurd's clearly in the milk-what-ya-got-for-as-long-as-you-can fold. An innovator (and shepharding clients to BCNF from flatfile bloat is innovative, at least; so far as EMC's Tucci is concerned, it's suicide) he's not.

Oracle will need to decide what to do between the existing Sun flash appliance approach and the SSD filesystem approach. It's certainly cheaper to push what they've already bought. Buying STEC (or any SSD OEM, so far as that goes) forces yet another decision: buy to sell or buy to sew up? I read the tea leaves to say that Oracle doesn't want to do either.