EMC Withstands Challenges

Moves by rivals of storage leader EMC unlikely to draw IT managers away from other concerns.

The resale agreement between Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hitachi Data Systems Corp. unveiled this month was the biggest and latest in a string of moves by companies trying to muscle into the high-end storage market, long dominated by EMC Corp.

But for all those moves—which date back to last years resale agreement between Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM—little is likely to change.

Enterprise IT managers said theyve got bigger worries than storage—budgets, customer relationship management, security and wireless access, for example—and if they were to gamble on new technology, it wouldnt be with business-critical data.

It will take more than partnerships to topple EMC from its perch in a market that Gartner Dataquest, of San Jose, Calif., pegs at $16.3 billion. A merger, disruptive technology or a radical pricing shift would raise IT eyebrows, users said, but there is no industry buzz about anything imminent. And unlike some other industry kingpins—Microsoft Corp. and database leader Oracle Corp., for example—EMC is not the focus of love-hate IT co- dependencies.

Bert Wiegand, director of data center operations and technical support at Appleton Papers Inc., in Appleton, Wis., said partnerships are good for the industry, but he hasnt seen tangible change come from them. With todays budget issues, better management tools are whats needed, he said. "Im totally ambivalent" about the Sun-Hitachi relationship, Wiegand said. "In the next couple of years, we have to make some choices. We never try to be on the leading edge" or gamble with something as vital as customer data, he added.

Paul Fusco, senior vice president and CIO of J. Crew Group Inc., in New York, said its more important for hardware vendors to make todays technologies better than it is to make new technologies. "Were all looking for deeper, faster, cheaper places to put our data," Fusco said.

The clothing retailer uses a combination of Sun, EMC and mainframe systems to hold its 2.4 terabytes of data.

EMC executives, in Hopkinton, Mass., said they do not feel threatened by the recent moves by rivals but have addressed the biggest criticism from users by reducing prices.

While EMC is "exceedingly paranoid" about being vulnerable to new technologies, the company expects such epiphanies to come from startups or established companies in other sectors, not from current competition, said Don Swatik, EMCs vice president of global alliances and information sciences.

Meanwhile, Houston-based Compaq, which has had little success reselling IBMs high-end storage hardware, laid out a road map last week at an event in Colorado. Mark Lewis, vice president and general manager of Compaqs enterprise storage group, said plans include global data replication products by the end of the year, IP networks to extend Fibre Channel connections across metropolitan areas for 2002, hybrid versions of that in 2003 and full-IP global storage networks in 2004.

Users are unsure whether new technologies and the partnerships will mean more or fewer choices. While open standards and interoperability are good for management, the offerings all start to look alike. However, users said, if some of the main players each decide to gamble on a different technology, there would be real choice—and real, tough decisions to make.