Tuesday, July 7, 2009

With the Mercury™ Series, BlueArc moves out of their comfort zone and targets the midrange commercial market.

BlueArc announced today the availability of their next generation of Network Storage Solutions, the BlueArc Mercury™ Server.

Targeted at the mid-range storage market this downward extension of the Titan portfolio gives BlueArc an entry into what their VP of Marketing, Bridget Warwick, calls the enterprise mid-range storage market.

Storage consolidation is the lead message that underpins this announcement with their go-to-market strategy promoting the elimination of storage silos, reducing infrastructure and operating costs, all with the end goal of reducing overall storage TCO. Supporting this strategy is Intelligent Tiered Storage a feature that BlueArc looks at as one of their major competitive advantages. Storage tiering is one of today’s more topical subjects and if the BlueArc technology lives up to its promise of effectively automating storage tiering then this feature will most certainly appeal to the thoughtful storage administrator as they struggle to improve their overall storage efficiency and operational costs. Many vendors are talking about tiering but few (any?) have effectively automated the process.

BlueArc has positioned Mercury as a cost effective consolidation solution that addresses the data island sprawl that commonly permeates growing enterprises. However, I am not sufficiently comfortable in my knowledge of their pricing strategy to comment on the pragmatism of this approach.

However, BluArc has missed a great opportunity to promote what I perceive to be a powerful unified storage message. BlueArc is data type agnostic supporting simultaneous access to file data and block I/O through native support of NFS, CIFS and iSCSI. They do talk about supporting a wide range of third party hardware platforms with particularly tight relationships with HDS and Data Direct Network. Being data type agnostic, having the ability to aggregate disparate heterogeneous storage silos and present a single consolidated management view is a powerful consolidation message not exploited.

The heart of BlueArc hardware platforms is the hardware accelerated file system, SiliconFS™. Accelerated data operations is the benefit delivered by in effect turbo charging the file system through a combination of field programmable gate array’s (FPGA) and multi-core processors. The BlueArc architects select which functionality will deliver the most benefit from hardware acceleration and have the flexibility to adjust this selection on the fly. Worth noting that the use of FPGA tends to avoid the design lag normally associated with proprietary silicon and should give BlueArc a design nimbleness that should translate to a competitive advantage.

This object based file system and the hybrid hardware architecture delivers what BlueArc consider to be their “unfair advantage”, rapid development response time, transparent data mobility, advanced data protection and a rich storage virtualization engine.

The technology that is Mercury™ is the same as that used in Titan simply downsized to fit a mid-range price point. Mercury™ will be initially introduced as the model 50 with the model 100 to follow. I detect a potential position problem with the Mercury 100 sitting on top of the Titan 3100; relative price points I suspect will be an interesting discussion. Observing how BlueArc manages this positioning challenge will be interesting.

The Mercury Series gives BlueArc an opportunity to expand their indirect channels. They expect to develop their reseller channel and to increase the business opportunity with their one OEM, Hitachi Data Systems. Mercury will also be sold through the direct BlueArc sales team. Caution, be wary of developing channel conflict.

BlueArc are moving into unchartered waters with this push into the commercial and highly competitive mid-range space and look at this move to quadruple the market available to them. However, if my assumption is correct and they will price at the upper end of the mid-range price point it remains to be seen how much of the market will be willing to pay the price premium BlueArc represents. This challenge speaks to the somewhat daunting task of changing the perception the market has of BlueArc with messaging, awareness and conversion proof points that resonate with this new prospect pool.

There is no question that BlueArc has outstanding technology but the mid-range commercial space takes them out of their HPC comfort zone where price tends to be less influential than performance and where the buying motion is less mercenary.

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