With last week's $175M acquisition of storage startup Inktank, the initial developer of the Open Source Ceph storage platform, Red Hat has added another piece to its growing storage portfolio. With large storage players fleshing out their software storage offerings including EMC (ScaleIO, Project Nile), NetApp, HP, and IBM, it's clear that the transition from hardware-centric storage appliances to software storage is underway — and it won't be long before we are at a point where your next array should be an app running on commodity hardware.

Though large storage players have successfully fended off software challengers such as Symantec before, it is telling that nearly all of the major players are developing and marketing their own software storage products, including EMC’s ScaleIO. The drive toward software storage is clearly gaining momentum, and this time around the storage leaders are active participants in addition to startups such as Nexenta Systems and the Open Source projects.

While Red Hat is not a major storage player today, there are a few reasons why this company could become disruptive as the market transitions to software storage:

  • No legacy business to lose. This is probably the most powerful attribute that makes Red Hat dangerous relative to existing storage players. While Red Hat’s market share (in terms of storage revenue and paying customers) is nowhere near the likes of leaders such as NetApp and EMC, its lack of legacy business will allow Red Hat to attack the NAS, object, and block storage market without the sacrifice of losing high-margin storage appliance sales.  
  • Acceptable storage overlap. At this stage in the game there is no clear software storage winner. Object storage is still a developing market, with Ceph, Swift, Cleversafe, Amplidata, Scality, Data Direct Networks, Caringo, and number of other players fighting for market share. So far, the market for block storage for cloud environments such as OpenStack is also wide open, with Ceph gaining some early market share and competing with the established storage players and startups such as SolidFire. Though the communities for Ceph and Gluster both have the shared goal of developing unified storage platforms for cloud environments and have overlapping functionalities, Red Hat has a better chance of gaining market share by offering customers choices, instead of stifling the innovation of either community.
  • Large opportunity for unstructured data. Though structured data for databases and other apps continues to be a key market, unstructured data growth is a key problem that organizations must address. Red Hat Storage (Gluster) and Ceph both have scale out architectures which can deal with rapid unstructured data growth, while keeping maintenance costs reasonable.
  • Server and storage convergence. Red Hat's existing operating system, virtualization, and cloud enablement products will be integrated with Red Hat Storage and Ceph to simplify management. Forrsights surveys have consistently shown that IT professionals have a strong desire for unified virtualization and storage management, to accelerate resource provisioning and to quickly identify and remediate storage and/or server issues.
Though we do not expect storage appliances to go away anytime soon, the transition to storage software running on commodity hardware is picking up steam. Now is a good time to begin assessing these offerings to see where they could fit in your current enterprise and cloud infrastructures.