VMAX – The Mainframe of Storage

VMAX – The Mainframe of Storage

Chris EvansEnterprise, Storage

This post title may sound a little controversial, but that’s far from my intention.  Anyone who knows me will be aware that I started out in the mainframe era.  I like the mainframe’s reliability and maturity of features, many of which took a long time to arrive in today’s IT world.  However, the mainframe is now a niche platform.  Although it has a steady following, it’s not the future.  The transition of the 1990s onwards showed that almost all services can be delivered using cheaper technology.  This leaves the mainframe covering a small part of the market today.

The VMAX Mainframe

How does this apply to VMAX?  The Dell EMC presentation at Storage Field Day 14 demonstrated a VMAX platform that continues to be a solid and reliable performer.  SRDF is a bedrock of disaster recovery with synchronous replication.  If you have to build a reliable, traditional application, VMAX remains a great choice.  Like VSP from Hitachi, it is the height of excellence for mission-critical applications.


However, there’s the problem.  The mainframe fell out of favour for a number of reasons.  It was expensive.  IBM controlled the technology and it didn’t advance as fast as it could.  Deploying local servers or Unix-based platform was more cost-effective and flexible.  This is the issue high-end storage is experiencing today.  There are cheaper and more flexible choices than solutions such as VMAX for most situations.

Data growth is in unstructured content.  Object stores based on commodity hardware work just fine.  Many applications that have been virtualised will work on HCI.  There are new and more innovative all-flash vendors in the market.  All of this is occurring in a traditional environment that is flat and has little growth.


What should Dell EMC be doing?  Well, for VMAX probably nothing more than they are today.  That means continuing to provide a solid and reliable platform for ongoing monolithic and legacy applications.  The biggest question is whether Dell EMC should be achieving more in the wider storage market.  It’s difficult to see if VMAX sales have been replaced by other product lines.  The IDC tracker data shows that this is not the case for enterprise storage arrays.  However, there has been an increase in other markets like CI and HCI.  Applications and storage have moved to new platforms and form factors.

The bigger problem for Dell EMC is that future storage will be delivered through software (as HCI demonstrates).  Selling storage software is a different proposition to hardware appliances.  So far, ScaleIO (which was acquired over 4 years ago) doesn’t appear to have made the growth that was perhaps hoped.  For Dell EMC, part of the problem here is the internal conflict between ScaleIO and Virtual SAN (vSAN) from VMware.  So far, vSAN seems to be winning that battle.  However, there is a wider issue of being able to sell storage solutions and achieve the same margin seen with storage arrays.

The Architect’s View

I’ve always been a fan of the Symmetrix family and in particular the management tools like Solutions Enabler.  I’d still recommend VMAX or VSP for the right requirement.  As competition increases, should Dell EMC care about dwindling sales?  Possibly not, if that revenue is being picked up at the same or higher margin elsewhere.

Further Reading

Disclaimer:  I was personally invited to attend Storage Field Day 14, with the event teams covering some of my travel and accommodation costs.  However I was not compensated for my time.  I am not required to blog on any content; blog posts are not edited or reviewed by the presenters or the respective companies prior to publication.

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