EMC World 2014: Observations on News, IT and Culture

NEWS ANALYSIS: As EMC takes its place among the world's preeminent IT companies, progressive corporate leadership becomes all the more important.

One of the most valuable aspects of EMC World every year is that it is way more than what most Wall Street investors seem to think: that EMC and its lavish event are just about data storage.

EMC World 2014, which concluded May 8 in Las Vegas, is a "three-fer" in that attendees not only get the lowdown on the world's largest storage company, but they also get tons of news from VMware, the world's largest and most influential virtualization software company, and Pivotal, the fast-rising, year-old cloud development startup that ultimately wants to become a viable alternative to Amazon on the cloud services/development chart.

Plus, RSA Security, also integral within the EMC Federated Empire, was prominent in many on- and offline discussions at EMC World, since security permeates every corner of IT. But RSA reps weren't onstage anywhere at this show, mainly because it already stages the world's largest security show every February in San Francisco.

It's astounding to think that three of the world's largest IT conferences—EMC World (around 20,000 attendees), RSA (35,000) and VMworld (25,000)—all belong to the same mothership.

EMC Emerging as a Household Name IT Producer

Most IT people already know how influential EMC now is. Yet, if you ask somebody randomly on the street if they've heard of EMC, you'll likely get either a blank stare or an answer such as, "Oh, isn't that the cable channel that shows old movies?"

eWEEK published several stories this past week on news and views from the conference by former Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist and myself, so you can get the stories by simply searching for "EMC World" on our site.

However, there were a couple of other highlights that either didn't get mentioned or weren't emphasized quite to our liking, so I'll list them here with a bit of elaboration.

In answering a rather brash question to EMC's Big Four executives from a reporter (yours truly, in fact) about whether the culture clashes among the 63,900 employees at EMC have quelled with time over the years, the query—as one might imagine—was dismissed as being "so yesterday," by Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz. There was both nodding and verbal agreement from VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, EMC COO David Goulden and the Emperor himself, CEO Joe Tucci (all pictured).

In denying a problem of culture clashes at their vast company, the execs countered by saying that geographic distance is irrelevant in this day and age of TelePresence, Skype and Google Hangouts. They also contended, and rightly so, that good product development can emanate just as well from different perspectives and trains of thought from opposite ends of the continent as from a group of close friends at laptops around the same table.

Culture Clashes Still Around?

Yet whether the culture clashes still exist was a legitimate question. Companies are all about people, and cultural differences—lifestyle choices, geographic influences, work and research approaches, etc.—don't dissipate into ether just like that.

A little revisited history: It was well-chronicled for several years, from 2003 to about 2010, that the old-line, Eastern Seaboard, coat-and-tie style of Boston-based EMC clearly clashed with the laid-back, shorts-and-T-shirt development and management style of Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware. This unease was especially evident at the top, with Tucci on one side and husband-and-wife VMware co-founders Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum on the other.

The problems came to a climax in July 2008, when Greene, a popular and highly successful CEO, was fired and replaced by Maritz. Rosenblum, a Stanford University professor, resigned two months later. Other VMware execs also left. Of course, the forklift leadership change entailed more than simple culture clash; there were business reasons included—nobody is denying that.

EMC at HQ is still the old-school EMC, and one can argue that if it weren't for new-gen additions like VMware, Pivotal, Data Domain and others, it might have been bypassed long ago by more progressive IT companies. Evidence in point:

a) EMC, though now an important all-around products and services player with Pivotal, was late in the market to the cloud;

b) If it wants to be a truly all-purpose IT company, it needs mobile and social strategies—it doesn't have them now; and

c) EMC, though it has bought some forward-thinking progressive storage vendors, is still living in the past to an extent. Some of its products need to be retired. For example, it is still using a storage codebase in many of its arrays that was originally developed for Symmetrix in 1987. Yes, it's been added to quite often since then, and all-new software populates in its latest products, but 27-year-old code is nothing if not old school.

People Management Is Always the Key

Is EMC, one of the largest amalgamations of IT intellectual property in the world, a cohesive culture? Couldn't be; it's too huge. Can the diverse corporate cultures of such a corporation combine to bring out quality IT development? Certainly. Multinationals such as IBM, GE, HP, Cisco Systems, Dell, Oracle and a few others have proved that this works.

Can EMC do the same? Of course. We believe the Big Four. But it's all about managing people; if they don't work as cohesive teams, the end of the company will soon be in sight.

Right now, EMC, like those other old-school companies noted above, is at a crossroads, moving from old-school IT to new-gen IT. Tucci will be retiring soon. It's also facing some revenue slowdown issues. But with Tucci's hiring of such progressive C-levels as Gelsinger and Maritz, the company clearly appears to be on the right track.

A final observation:

During the four days of the conference, the newly named EMC Federation was described by Gelsinger as "strategically aligned but loosely coupled," and as having a "co-opetition model" by Maritz. Tucci quipped that EMC's vast list of products and services for IT decision-makers is like being "at a fine restaurant where you can order à la carte or from a prix fixe menu."

Pass the garlic potatoes, please.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...