EMC Has Plenty of Storage Aspiration Left! (with video)

Last month (my how time flies!) saw EMC’s annual EMC World event. You may already have seen ESG’s broad-brush video blog that tried to cover some of the key general themes – if not, you can get it atemc-world-2014-initial-esg-analyst-impressions-video/index.html" target="_blank"> this link. The purpose of this follow up blog is to get a little more into the nitty-gritty of the storage specific takeaways from Vegas. Along with my written commentary that follows below, here is another video, as I was able to persuade Barry Ader and Jonathan Siegal to stare into my camcorder from their soapboxes for a few minutes!

Thanks to Barry and Jonathan for doing that. In case you skipped the video - and in any case to augment the key storage ‘talk-track’ of what EMC wanted us to hear with my interpretative comments of what EMC was really telling us - here’s the storage summary: both via specific products (more details below) and also via both explicit and implicit ‘framing’ EMC wants to leave no doubt that it is headed with conviction to a software based future. Of course, that conviction is tinged with the financial reality that today it is still largely the essentially-hardware-systems that pay the bills. EMC will not want its change to a software storage company to come with a hard landing, so there will no doubt be some fits and starts as it makes this challenging transition. But I don’t question its commitment.

So there were some “business as usual” elements and some “but watch this space” aspects to the hard news from the show: I’m not planning to repeat all the news from last month but to key in on what I think matters strategically. Leading the business-as-usual camp was of course the VNXe announcement that actually preceded EMC World by a few days. Perhaps this was because there was more drama in the $1m “reward” (!?) EMC offered for anyone (emphasis on “one”) that experiences throttled data services on their XtremIO box – it’s a bit like a car dealer promising to beat any other dealer's price or give you the car; it was all about the bravura and confidence. There was also Elastic Cloud Storage, the [presumably first] manifestation of which being a packaging of ViPR with what-was-once called Project Nile. This appliance (it’s not a service) sounds very futuristic (“complete, cloud-scale, any data center”) but in essence it is really a nicely-dressed way to street fight the likes of AWS and Google. The watch-this-space category was exemplified by the acquisition of DSSD, and its nascent “rack-scale, mega-performance flash storage/memory”. And of course alongside this there was a strong “software-defined storage” river flowing through everything – that’s why, in the video, I called out Project Liberty as seeming so significant. The inclusion, and gradual embrace, of commodity storage as a part of what is integrated via software and also embedded into ViPR 2.0 (the new version with block support and global relocation) is probably the most dramatic change that EMC has had to manage in its history; simply because change of such magnitude creates competitive risk just as much as it delivers commercial opportunity.

Bottom line – storage, whatever it is and however it gets delivered, is clearly still the heart and soul at EMC. It’s just that what it is and how it gets delivered is changing! EMC World was simply EMC pointing out that it will not be standing by and watching! It was a shot across its competitors’ bows, and fair warning to its customers that they should still plan to send a chunk of their budgets to Hopkinton!

Video Transcript

Mark: EMC World was in early May. Every year, it's just about the biggest storage specific event. I say storage specific for two reasons. First, the very nature of IT these days means that even storage-focused events are increasingly about more than storage. You may have already seen other ESG accounts of the events, and we also produced an overview video blog, but there's always storage specificity. My blog accompanying this video gives an extended look at the key storage takeaways this year. So here, I'll just offer a couple of 50,000 foot comments together with details from two EMCers.

Even on the storage side, perhaps especially on the storage side, this year's EMC World seem to me to be way less marketing themeful and rather more market thoughtful. To detail some of these driving thoughts, I spoke first to Barry Ader.

Barry: Well, one of the great things we just did at EMC World was we actually had a technology showcase. One of the key themes of that showcase was simplicity. Many of our customers these days are looking to manage more terabytes with less people and also the skills and the business processes that customers are faced with if they need to manage things at a much simpler fashion. Some of the things that we talked about at EMC World was showing them where we're heading in terms of managing their storage based upon whether they needed a diamond or some gold or silver or bronze kind of service level. We did a demo of being able to just very quickly, what host you need, how many terabytes do you need, what service level do you want, and the system automatically goes and figures it all out. So big theme for us is all around simplicity, managing new storage, managing new storage by business process, good direction for us, and good key takeaway from EMC World.

Mark: You'll have noticed that the interview was shot outside a room called Titian. That seems apposite as Titian is famed for his use and addition of color. Anyhow, Barry covered EMC's expanded focus on simplicity, SLAs and manageability. Now to speak about some of the key advances in raw storage components, though still with color, here's Jonathan Siegal.

Jonathan: We've made a number of great announcements over the past week on both our VNX platforms in the mid-range as well as VMAX high-end platforms. On the VNX side, we've taken a lot of the enterprise capabilities, for example, and bringing them down market. We've taken data at-rest encryption and implementation from our VMAX and brought it down to our VNX2 customers and made it available as a non-disruptive software upgrade for those customers. We've also done the same with VNXe. We've now blended that with enterprise capabilities from the VNX2, such as fully automated storage tiering, fiber channel and multi-core optimization to provide those customers with the ability to support two to three times the amount of virtual machines in a very small footprint and to still do so easily for those folks that aren't storage admins by trade.

On the VMAX side, we've also done some exciting things. So in terms of enabling our customers that have VMAXs today or looking at VMAX to more cost effectively deploy some of their mission critical, latency sensitive applications on the VMAX. So for example, what we've done now is we introduced FlashBoost, which gives our customers the ability to essentially improve their performance for read-intensive applications by directly serving those applications in that I/O from Flash. In addition to that, we've come out with new packages called Flash Power Packs, which enables our customers to more cost effectively purchase Flash for their mission critical workloads. So essentially what we're enabling with the VMAX is for customers to both improve their service levels and do so at a cost effective manner for deploying all Flash pools within their array. And then finally, one exciting thing we're doing is really software defined storage, so we announced Project Liberty.

Project Liberty is about providing new levels of freedom, if you will, for our customers to deploy VNX-like software or VNX-like capabilities, if you will, software defined VNX, and through it, deploy out a new model, such as potentially spinning up a new VM and running it on commodity hardware. Or for example, running it in the cloud, or for example, taking a virtualized software version of VNX and running it at a remote site, so looking at a number of exciting deployment models like that and then getting feedback directly from our partners and from our customers in the near future.

Mark: There's more in the written blog, as I said, but for now, behind the hype, million dollar guarantees, elastic storage, the acquisition of DSSD and so on, some clear storage undercurrents reached the surface. Key amongst them was software defined storage and hybrid clouds all wrapped in simplicity. And yes, storage becoming more integrated with apps and IT as a whole. To that degree, EMC World felt like the movie trailer for a forthcoming new world of storage blockbuster.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure