EMC, VMware, Pivotal Federated Strategy: 'Tightly Aligned, Loosely Coupled'

NEWS ANALYSIS: As EMC evolves, it has come up with a new strategy to compete in building products and services for hybrid clouds and the IoT.

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LAS VEGAS -- It turns out that the so-called Internet of things may well become the No. 1 use case for which a large IT mothership called EMC will be supplying goods and services for years to come.

Who'd have thunk it? Companies such as GE, Cisco Systems, IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and a stampede of others come to mind a lot faster as being IoT-oriented than lumbering, old-school EMC.

EMC, which in 30 years has built itself from a small maker of circuit boards into the world's largest independent storage hardware and software provider for enterprises, unquestionably has blossomed further into a full-fledged IT products and services provider of much more than storage. It has done this mostly through smart acquisitions of key smaller companies such as VMware and RSA Security and by helping create new-gen companies such as Pivotal and VCE.

EMC World a Backup for Large Section of IT

The EMC World 2014 conference, being held here at the Venetian through May 7, attracts about 30,000 people each year and is a backstop for virtually everything happening in enterprise IT: servers, storage, networking, security, cloud services, application development, virtualized systems, and others.

All of those sectors are currently building products and services that will be used in the IoT. EMC is involved in all of them. Hybrids clouds are also a major target for the company.

Mobile and social networks are not prime topics here, yet those still figure heavily in many solution conversations. Like competitors IBM, Oracle, HP and Cisco Systems, EMC's product offerings are so vast that a new-generation high-level organizational strategy was mandatory in order for the mothership to serve its customers as efficiently as possible.

That over-arching strategy was the main topic of the conference, which itself was themed "Redefine." VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger articulated EMC's strategy best on May 6 with a simple phrase he used during his remarks: "Tightly aligned, loosely coupled."

All Divisions Must Be on Same Page

This means that all the subdivisions of the company are all on the same development and product-producing page, while allowing individual pieces of a solution to be replaced by those the customer chooses to replace. Vendor lock-in, at least within the scope of company rhetoric, is a thing of the past -- although you can bet that salespeople from all parts of EMC will still make their play to convince customers that each of their wares will work most optimally within a solution.

EMC's "federated" strategy of building new software-defined storage, server and networking systems for its customers can be broken down further into the following data points:

--Off the top, the four top EMC executives themselves all have to be on the same page. "First and foremost, we have strategic alignment across the businesses," CEO Joe Tucci told a group of journalists. "To do that, we have the federal executives (EMC Chief of Operations David Goulden, VMware CEO Gelsinger, Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz and Tucci himself) to make sure that happens."

--Messaging from different parts of the company must be coordinated. When the strategy and messaging is clear, Tucci said, "then each of these businesses is free and encouraged to create the ecosystems they need, take their particular set of the technologies and make sure they're a winner in the market."

--When it comes to bigger customers, EMC does account coordination, "so we don't come out as three or four different points of light [when approaching a customer]," Tucci said.

--The company is putting together a set of pre-configured EVP (for EMC, VMware and Pivotal) solution sets for different types of market needs, Tucci said. However, in accordance with the "tightly aligned, loosely coupled" idea of Gelsinger's, even these templated solutions that blueprint new-gen servers from VCE, storage from EMC and networking from VMware could be changed according to the requirements of the customer.

Options for Choice Important to Strategy

EMC really is getting pretty magnanimous about all this, and it's all to the benefit of the buyer. Other companies don't work quite this way.

For example, Gelsinger said: "I (as VMware) do a business partnership with NetApp (a bitter EMC storage rival for Goulden); Paul Maritz (as Pivotal) works with Amazon (a bitter rival of VMware and Gelsinger for cloud infrastructure). We all bring our unique strengths to the table. It's so much about getting past all those old barriers and just finding the right combination for the customer.

"If we do that right, the customer is happy, and that's the bottom line."

Not that many years ago, combinations like those mentioned above were unheard of, even at the old EMC. Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, SGI, DEC and Cisco Systems also were well-known closed shops, and even those old-timers that are still in business are also coming around to the new cooperation that's required to make new-gen data centers do everything they're supposed to do.

The federated corporate approach to building new-gen IT for customers will focus around the hybrid cloud, which is the logical destination for most enterprise systems. The pick-and-choose-from-the-menu approach -- with additional options from outside vendors, even if they're not partners with EMC -- is clearly what enterprises want, and EMC is only too happy to provide it.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...