Software Helps EMC Ease Out of Its Enterprise Storage Comfort Zone

EMC is still primarily an enterprise storage and IT infrastructure company, but it spent more than half the time at its recent EMC World conference talking about software.

EMC Cloud Storage

LAS VEGAS—Some companies are always going to be identified with their original or core technology. With Microsoft, it's Windows; for IBM its mainframes; and Oracle will always be known for its relational databases, even though those companies make billions of dollars selling other types of products.

EMC, for that matter, has always been a "storage" company, but if you sat through four days of EMC World this month you'd swear EMC was all about software. And it is, it turns out.

Storage and infrastructure products still make up about two-thirds of EMC's revenue, but at its annual user conference here the company spent more than half its time talking about software, even open source software.

Going forward, software—hybrid cloud, networking, converged infrastructure and software-defined networking and storage—is going to continue to grow in revenue and importance for EMC. In this respect EMC is right where it wants to be in the current technology landscape as businesses get serious about scaling out with hybrid or public cloud initiatives.

The announcement around EMC's upgrade to its all-flash memory array, XtremIO 4.0, is a classic example of how EMC is improving hardware's value with software. In addition to boosting capacity of the array to more than a petabyte, XtremIO improves on data protection, automation, copy data management and provisioning.

There's no secret to the hardware though, said Andy Fenselau, Senior Director of Product Marketing in EMC's Emerging Technology Products Division. "The magic is how we built the software and metadata in a shared memory architecture," he said. "No matter how big the cluster is, it's one big shared memory space and we made it bulletproof. When everything is in memory you can do extraordinary things."

Officials said that XtremIO is one of EMC's fastest-growing products. Fenselau added that half of EMC’s new XtremIO customers are using it for database-intensive workloads, making it a good choice for organizations that need a platform that can play in traditional and hybrid roles. "The value isn't just performance and infrastructure," he said. "It's the consolidation, it's the app services and agility [XtremIO] enables."

Not forgetting pure hardware performance, EMC gave attendees a look at what they can expect from another flash product coming later this year based on technology acquired from DSSD last year. The product is a direct attach appliance in a 5U configuration that can hold up to 36 hot-swappable PCIe-based NAND flash modules. EMC envisions it enabling much faster performance of big data analytics and Hadoop clusters.

Still, it was EMC's pure software announcements that drew much of the attention. The company has created an open source project around its popular ViPR storage controller and management console. Dubbed Project CoprHD, the code will be licensed under the Mozilla Public License 2.0 and available for download from GitHub in June.

EMC will continue to offer its own supported version of ViPR. Users like Ron Redmer, senior vice president for engineering services at Cyber Group, an application and development services provider, said ViPR helped his company transform its own IT department and what Cyber Group can do for its customers. "ViPR is a single pane of glass that can define rules in the same tool that we allocate storage and networking," said Redmer.

EMC also launched the ScaleIO Product Community for its virtual SAN software and is enabling users to download ScaleIO free for non-production use, development and testing. Users can buy ScaleIO as software-only and deploy on their own hardware or they can buy an optimized version with EMC's new VxRack offering.

Finally, software plays a big role in the concept of "de-riskifying" cloud computing, which was another point hammered home by EMC executives. While they didn't come right out and say that the public cloud (cough, Amazon Web Services) is riskier, they at least encouraged the perception that it is to those users who are still entrenched with traditional hardware data centers.

That perception is overblown. It’s also risky to spend money—a lot of money in some cases—on propriety hardware offerings. At least EMC is seeing what's going on in the cloud world and hearing what their customers want in terms of openness and flexibility while giving them the tools they need to move to the cloud—even if they are still keeping one foot in on premise.

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise, While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...