Yesterday, HDS announced that they had closed on the purchase of BlueArc their NAS supplier for the past 5 years or so. Many commentators mentioned that this was a logical evolution of their ongoing OEM agreement, how the timing was right and speculated on what the purchase price might have been. If you are interested in these aspects of the acquisition, I would refer you to the excellent post by David Vellante from Wikibon on the HDS BlueArc deal.
Hardware as a key differentiator
In contrast, I would like to concentrate here on another view of the purchase, specifically on how HDS and Hitachi, Ltd. have both been working to increase their product differentiation through advanced and specialized hardware (see my post on Hitachi’s VSP vs VMAX and for more on hardware vs. software check out Commodity hardware always loses).
Similarly, BlueArc shared this philosophy and was one of the few NAS vendors to develop special purpose hardware for their Titan and Mercury systems to specifically speedup NFS and CIFS processing. Most other NAS systems use more general purpose hardware and as a result, a majority of their R&D investment focuses on software functionality.
But not BlueArc, their performance advantage was highly dependent on specifically designed FPGAs and other hardware. As such, they have a significant hardware R&D budget to continue their maintain and leverage their unique hardware advantage.
From my perspective, this follows what HDS and Hitachi, Ltd., have been doing all along with the USP, USP-V, and now their latest entrant the VSP. If you look under the covers at these products you find a plethora of many special purpose ASICs, FPGAs and other hardware that help accelerate IO performance.
BlueArc and HDS/Hitachi, Ltd. seem to be some of the last vendors standing that still believe that hardware specialization can bring value to data storage. From that standpoint, it makes an awful lot of sense to me to have HDS purchase them.
But others aren’t standing still
In the mean time, scale out NAS products continue to move forward on a number of fronts. As readers of my newsletter know, currently the SPECsfs2008 overall performance winner is a scale out NAS solution using 144 nodes from EMC Isilon (newsletter signup is above right or can also be found here).
The fact that now HDS/Hitachi, Ltd. can bring their considerable hardware development skills and resources to bear on helping BlueArc develop and deploy their next generation of hardware is a good sign.
Another interesting tidbit was HDS’s previous purchase of ParaScale which seems to have some scale out NAS capabilities of its own. How this all gets pulled together within HDS’s product line will need to be seen.
In any event, all this means that the battle for NAS isn’t over and is just moving to a higher level.