EMC VNX launch represents a move toward unified branding as well as unified storage

EMC VNX launch marks a move toward unified branding as well as unified storage, but does a unified brand really indicate a unified product range?

The recent EMC VNX announcement brought unified storage to EMC's midrange storage lines, and represents a move toward unified branding as the VNX brand replaces the company's existing Celerra and Clariion products. Such a move -- to unified storage and unified branding -- signifies EMC beefing up its offer to take a swipe back at NetApp, which has been successful in carving out an ever bigger slice of market share in recent years.

Unified branding of a vendor's entire product range goes against conventional marketing wisdom but is becoming the norm among storage companies as they try to convey an image of continuity between SME, midmarket and high-end product lines.

Differentiation by brand name of a vendor's products, or brand management, originated with an idea set out by Neil McElroy in a famous 1931 memo to the Proctor & Gamble (P&G) leadership. In it he argued that the company's brands should be owned and marketed by dedicated people who differentiate them from one another to avoid wasteful competition among the company's products. The idea is that you brand each differently and accentuate the differences between them to separate them in customers' minds.

Until now EMC had been an exemplar of this approach, with differently named products for different market sectors: Celerra for filers, Centera for object archives, Clariion for midrange block arrays, Atmos for cloud storage and Symmetrix DMX-something for high-end arrays. That is now changing, with all the mainstream brands transitioning to V-something. So, Symmetrix becomes VMAX, federated VMAX arrays are known by the VPLEX moniker, and the Clariion and Celerra lines combine to become EMC VNX.

Extrapolating the logic of this means we should see the Atmos and Centera brands change to a V-something brand. Nothing has been said about this by EMC though. We might see Atmos and Centera product-level brands emerge first, like an Atmos VCA (Virtual Cloud Architecture or some such), but this is conjecture on my part.

Meanwhile, NetApp has historically taken the polar-opposite approach to the P&G-inspired differentiated branding model. It is as if NetApp has one product, the FAS array, which comes in three versions -- the FAS2000, FAS3000 and FAS6000 -- each of which comes in three sub-versions.

There were separate NetApp StoreVault (low-end channel-only array) and virtual tape library products but StoreVault was brought back inside the FAS house and the VTL has gone away. There is also the V-Series, but this is basically a FAS controller minus its disk shelves, which provides the same Ontap environment as the FAS arrays do.

Other storage vendors have also moved toward unified branding of their product lines.

HP has imposed a consistent branding scheme on its multilevel storage offering. Starting at the bottom, the MSA line has become the P2000. Next up, the iSCSI LeftHand array is now the P4000. Last year it emerged that the EVA brand was going to become the P6000, although whether that is still the case following 3PAR's acquisition and the ascendancy of 3PAR CEO David Scott to run HP's StorageWorks is open to question.

The 3PAR InServ arrays, coming in F-Class and T-Class versions, do not fit into the PX-thousand scheme. Nor did HP's OEMed Hitachi USP-V arrays, which were called XP systems by HP. The latest iteration of these by Hitachi, the VSP line, has been branded P9500 by HP, neatly framing the 3PAR InServ brand inconsistency by topping and tailing it with PX-thousand-branded products.

To emphasise this further, HP is using an X something-thousand scheme for its filer boxes. Logic here says the 3PAR line will have to be called the P8000 or P10000 eventually, unless David Scott's marketeers throw the whole P and X something-thousand scheme away and start afresh.

Meanwhile, Hitachi Data Systems has had a much simpler job, essentially only having three brands: the high-end USP, now VSP; midrange AMS; and low-end WMS arrays. It also has its HCP -- Hitachi Content Platform -- but there's no confusion here; it's a basic three-letter acronym scheme that is simple and comprehensible enough.

But, while some move toward unified branding, others are moving away or are still to get there.

Most notably ditching a unified brand is IBM as it moves away from its DSX000 scheme. We now have the XIV array, the Storwize V7000 and the VDS arrays, which combine SAN Volume Controller and DS5000 or DS3000, with the DS6000 being ditched last August. What we could deduce from this is that the DS3000, DS5000, and DS8000 are legacy arrays, with the VDS, V7000 and XIV being the future ones, albeit with a nonconsistent brand naming scheme.

Dell's storage branding is not so neat, with Dell wanting to preserve the brand equity of the acquired EqualLogic iSCSI arrays and doing so very successfully with a co-branding scheme, Dell EqualLogic. It has also used co-branding for its EMC-sourced Clariion arrays; Dell/EMC CX4, for example. But things get confused at the low end with the EMC-sourced and Dell-branded AX4 and the totally Dell-branded PowerVault, which fits into other Dell Power-something brands such as PowerConnect and PowerEdge.

Now Dell has bought Compellent and is developing its own DX6000 object storage line and has a DL2000 data deduplication product. Will Dell preserve the Compellent brand with another co-branding scheme? Dell Compellent is an obvious candidate, as is Dell StorageCenter. A countervailing view would be that Dell should impose brand order on this anarchy and have a consistent main storage branding scheme, the Dell "something" followed by the product category and then the individual products.

Brand naming is not an exact science, but the trend across the main storage players is in favour of a consistent scheme, which runs counter to the P&G brand management idea. The idea behind this would seem to be to give the impression of unified product ranges with seamless upgrades between them, even though you can't, not even with the most unified brand of them all, NetApp's FAS family.

Chris Mellor is storage editor of The Register.

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