On July 19th, Dell announced their intention to acquire data deduplication vendor Ocarina Networks. It’s no surprise that somebody bought Ocarina, as deduplication is one of the hottest technology areas in storage today, with every vendor scrambling to offer tools that can help users contain their massive growth of data and storage footprints. Data deduplication is a form of virtualization that breaks data into chunks, and then compares them and eliminates repeated chunks, replacing them with a pointer to the originally seen version.

NetApp has led the charge in primary storage with their complimentary NetApp deduplication feature within their Data ONTAP operating system.  EMC made a big move into dedupe with their acquisition of Data Domain, mostly used for data backup. So no wonder that competitors of NetApp and EMC are eager to get something going in this hot space. And no wonder that Ocarina was an obvious target with their advanced deduplication algorithms that can eliminate redundant data even in image files with similar coloring, often seen as a particularly tricky file type for deduping. Also, Ocarina is based in an appliance, which means that it can be applied across a whole environment, rather than only on data within a single storage system. This type of functionality is likely to be core to enterprise storage efficiency strategies going forward, and is probably better served up by a large vendor that sells their own storage, rather than as an add on from an unknown quantity.

What is surprising is that it is Dell making this move, rather than EMC, HP or HDS that might have appeared to be more likely suitors. HP was a likely suitor, given their current technology partnership and Ocarina’s leadership heritage with PolyServe, another acquisition of HP (although not a particularly successful one). However, HP has been going down their own path with StoreOnce deduplication technology. Dell’s position in enterprise storage is less comprehensive, with their EqualLogic acquisition offering highly virtualized and full featured iSCSI storage solutions to predominantly SMB customers, and their EMC partner technology for the mid-range, and a new object oriented content system powered by recent partnership with Caringo also thrown in the mix.

Dell’s press release points to using Ocarina within the EqualLogic part of the portfolio, which seems to be the future of Dell storage, more so than partner based offerings. It seems that the core of the EqualLogic SMB customer base, in the 10-30 TB range might get less benefit from data deduplication in general than firms with larger overall data footprints. However, in spite of that question mark, the recent moves by Dell show some clear intent to be taken seriously in enterprise storage and develop a portfolio and vision that will move them beyond the EMC order fulfiller that they were in the past. It will be interesting to see whether advanced dedupe from Ocarina will help move them in that direction.