Dell, EMC, and HP catch storage acquisition fever

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The wild west of storage vendors is being tamed through acquisition, but is that a good thing?

A few days ago, Dell announced it was in acquisition talks with Compellent, a relatively small, but innovative enterprise storage vendor that has won multiple InfoWorld Technology of the Year awards.

This news follows Dell's embarrassingly public failure to win a bidding war with HP for cloud storage vendor 3Par and not long after Dell's acquisition of data de-duplication vendor Ocarina and the remnants of defunct NAS vendor Exanet. Together with EMC's recent acquisition of NAS vendor Isilon, the big storage players are buying up smaller firms like fanboys dashing to get the latest iPhone on release day.

No wonder -- the data explosion isn't just an overhyped doomsday IDC stat. It's a real and growing phenomenon that is only compounded as enterprises and consumers start moving on-premise storage islands into the cloud, prompting the creation of new, much larger storage environments. Dell, EMC, HP, and IBM are doing everything they can to cash in.

I worry that this trend may not serve the storage market well in the long run. Part of what made storage vendors like 3Par, Compellent, and Isilon great at what they did was a completely fresh approach to storage. Any time a smaller, innovative company is snapped up by a larger one, there's a risk the very things that made the smaller one great will be lost. Anyone who owns Sun server and storage hardware is about to find this out the hard way.

That isn't the only problem, though. In several of these instances, the acquisitions overlap with other offerings. Dell, for example, resells EMC's entire line of storage and markets the EqualLogic line that it acquired several years ago. In many ways, a Compellent acquisition would also overlap with EqualLogic's offering. Although the products differ at a technical level, they both play in the same market and generally compete for the same customers -- often head to head.

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