SFD5 Prep Work: X-IO Storage

X-IO LogoX-IO confuse me.

My overall impression of X-IO is that they had something interesting and special several years ago, but the changes to the industry have passed now them by.

Their 700 series arrays are hybrid SSD/HDD arrays with auto-tiering software to make the flash a kind of persistent cache. The 200 series arrays have 10k RPM SAS drives in them. Both lines do FC or iSCSI, so LUN based block storage only. There is another line, the 2200 series, which does SMB3.0 and NFS4.1 NAS.

Their headline storage arrays appear to be an active-active dual-controller storage array, but with super-specialised proprietary hardware inside the box to get lower power consumption and disk availability. The controllers apparently work like Tandems (now HP Non-Stop) where both controllers are in sync with each other for all operations, so if one of them dies, the other one is already processing the same stuff, so there’s no failover time (like NetApp 7-mode).

They use the term “in-situ remanufacturing” for what everyone else knows as hot-spares. Actually, that’s unfair. The physical HDDs live inside a proprietary module called a “datapac” which wraps them in a bunch of propritery hardware and software. They do RAID using ASICs to make it faster (and they call it Matrix RAID, but in the spec sheets still talk about RAID-5 and RAID-10 for working out usable capacity), and apparently monitor the drive telemetry to be able to spare out sub-drive components like platters. It sounds a bit like bad sector avoidance.

Straddle Strategy?

X-IO Value Proposition

X-IO’s value proposition is apparently that they’re the most cost-effective solution for people who want 40-800 IOPS per 100GB of storage. That’s a tough place to play.

Their product positioning is tricky: they’re not “cheap and deep”, nor are they high-performance. They’re not really scale-out. They don’t really stand out with any sort of unique features, which means they end up competing solely on cost.

I’m not sold on this strategy. You can’t do super-proprietary hardware and software in a cost-leader array unless it gives you major cost advantages. X-IO bang on about using enterprise grade disks instead of low-duty cycle disks to boost reliability. But that’s a value add, not a low-cost feature. Huh?

And remember that flash prices are dropping really fast, as are the costs of HDDs. Maintaining any sort of cost advantage in a market that’s changing as rapidly as storage is a really tough business, and even worse for a startup without economies of scale or a major technology advantage over competitors. I just don’t see how X-IO can win, and continue to win, with this strategy.

If you go to the Applications section of X-IO’s website, you’ll see them claiming to be all things to all people, particular if you hover over the navigation tab. OLTP and Server Virtualisation! VDI and Big Data! Cloud and Data Warehousing! The list of things that X-IO isn’t suitable for would be shorter.

X-IO seem really confused about what they want to be, so they’ve gone with a straddling strategy. They’ll get killed on performance by people like Pure Storage talking up equivalent IOPS/$/GB by using fancy compression and dedupe software (which I don’t see a mention of from X-IO). They’ll get killed on cheap and deep stuff because other can do it with commodity storage and simpler hardware.

X-IO don’t have a niche to play in, which means they have to compete head-on with everyone else making a storage array these days. That’s a lot of competitors, and without some sort of differentiator, I just can’t find a reason to want to buy from them. Why would I choose X-IO over Pure Storage, or Nimble, or Tintri, or Tegile, or SolidFire, or Coho Data, or XtremeIO, or StoreVirtual? It’s a massive list of alternatives, and that’s not even going into things like VSAN or Nutanix or SimpliVity.

I hope X-IO can talk me around in their presentation, and can help me to see what makes them special. And I really, really hope it isn’t simply cost.

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  1. Hi Justin,

    Firstly we do look forward to meeting you face to face next week. It should be an interesting session.

    You make some interesting observations. We’ve bombarded the market with so much different messaging in the past that it’s become difficult in some ways to cut through where and were we aren’t a great fit. However the one thing we’ve been consistent with is our product and actually proving our technology claims through customer installations. We’ve spent a great deal of time clearing our messaging and therefore that up this will be a key topic of conversation for SFD5.

    X-IO has a unique technology in the Intelligent Storage Element that bring a number of distinct attributes to some solution stacks. We’ve had a great deal of success in solutions where a combination of long duty cycles, zero touch reliability, predictable (not necessarily high) performance and management simplicity are required. There’s some vertical markets where these are absolutely applicable (e.g. cloud service providers) but we also have an effect on solutions such as VDI and OLTP.

    Again, we look forward to being able to discuss this with you in more detail next week.

    Gavin McLaughlin
    X-IO Technologies

  2. Thanks for commenting, Gavin.

    I really do look forward to hearing more about what you’re focussing on, because there is goodness there, I’m sure.

    I can see a solid market for a “set and forget” storage array where you don’t want teams of techs swapping HDDs all day in your cloud farm.

    I’m a big fan of companies having clear focus on what they do, and particularly don’t, do. I look forward to hearing more about what you’re tapping into that customers really care about.

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