EMC World 2010 and IT Vendor Evolution

From Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.

IT vendor conferences offer a variety of amusements and educational opportunities, and EMC World 2010 was no exception. But the most interesting aspect of this year’s event focused on how things have changed for EMC during the past year. Consider this: EMC World 2009 kicked off with a keynote co-hosted by company President and CEO Joe Tucci and VMware President and CEO Paul Maritz, emphasizing the companies’ common vision of virtualization as the foundation for cloud computing. Last week in Boston, Tucci used his solo keynote to highlight EMC’s notion of private cloud computing as the rightful future of enterprise datacenters and discussed the partnerships EMC is pursuing to make that vision a reality.

Who are those partners? VMware and Cisco, both EMC partners in the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) Coalition – the trio announced in November 2009. In fact, prior to EMC World, the partners announced the appointment of Michael Capellas, formerly of Compaq, HP and MCI, as CEO of Acadia, a Cisco-EMC joint venture, and to lead all aspects of the VCE coalition. Acadia was formed to accelerate adoption of Vblocks by providing ‘build, operate and transfer’ services to large enterprises and service providers. But Tucci also focused significant attention on the company’s partners beyond VCE, including Dell, Brocade and SAP, which are also dedicating considerable resources to private cloud solutions.

All of this may seem fairly mundane. After all, “IT conference emphasizes vendor partnerships” carries the inherent headline drama of “Dog Bites Man.” However, consider what has been brewing in the broader IT industry during the past year or so, especially among system vendors, where Oracle acquired Sun, HP acquired EDS and 3Com. While some of these deals are largely tactical, we would argue that they reflect broad efforts among some system vendors to strategically consolidate their positions among existing and future clients.

Of these, Oracle appears most ambitious. The Sun deal provides it the means to deliver end-to-end datacenter solutions, as well as workload-optimized systems, all of which carry potential synergies with the company’s middleware and application solutions. HP’s purchases place the company on obvious collision paths with IBM (via EDS) and Cisco (via 3Com). While intriguing, the success of these efforts is anything but set in stone. Oracle’s strategy, in particular, appears oddly old school—a back-to-the-80s move of the sort that once nearly sunk IBM. While HP’s focus on enterprise computing seems well-intentioned, one wonders how much value can really be wrested from companies whose glory days are well behind them.

So what does any of this have to do with EMC World 2010 and the private cloud? Just this: if efforts by Oracle, HP and other system vendors to consolidate offerings, power and customers accurately reflect IT market trends, what does the future hold for more specialized vendors like EMC, VMware and Cisco? More importantly, how can they best adapt and turn such trends to their advantage? We would argue that these questions and their answers provided the subtext at EMC World 2010.

The technical drivers for cloud computing remain what they have always been for vendors of every sort: broad system virtualization supported by integrated storage, optimized network technologies and automated management tools. The difference, in EMC’s and its partners’ view, is that clients are best served by working with groups of highly complementary, collaborating vendors than they are with vertically integrated solution stacks from single vendors offering “one throat to choke” service. Why? To avoid eventually finding that “vendor lock-in” means the throats being choked are actually their own.

Sessions at EMC World 2010 suggest that the company and its partners are well on their way to delivering on this vision, and the VCE coalition and Acadia joint venture are interesting examples. Note that while many vendors like to talk about delivering integrated, cross-company solutions, actually achieving that goal is no easy task, especially when it requires competing product groups and executives to play nice. In contrast, Acadia is the subject of monthly updates among its partners’ CEOs and other senior executives. Additionally, hiring Michael Capellas, who can stand toe-to-toe with any high-octane C-level executive, demonstrates how serious EMC, VMware and Cisco are about making Acadia and the VCE coalition succeed.

Acadia aside, how sharp is the rest of EMC’s private cloud vision? Mostly good. The company has made great strides in achieving its goal of optimizing its entire storage portfolio for virtual environments, and its VMware investment continues to pay handsome dividends. We do have some concerns about the company’s x86-centric view of the cloud. Yes, IT continues to migrate toward x86 but also continues to deploy UNIX and mainframe systems in large numbers. EMC executives noted the company is working closely with a number of clients on large-scale migrations from proprietary enterprise systems to x86, but we expect heterogeneity will continue to rule datacenters for some time to come.

To our way of thinking, the most intriguing and critical issue related to EMC’s vision of the future is what the company’s growing private cloud partner ecosystem will bring to the mix. EMC’s ongoing relationship with Dell has been greatly beneficial for both companies and has obvious ramifications for the cloud. In fact, Dell was one of the first vendors to establish a commercial cloud solutions organization. Much of the work EMC is doing in the VCE coalition seems translatable to custom solutions developed with Dell and others, including Brocade and Microsoft (although other solutions are not likely to come with a single support experience as offered through the VCE coalition). SAP, which has its own reasons for strengthening its position against Oracle, should be another strong partner in private clouds, especially in light of its Sybase acquisition.

Bottom line: Though much about EMC World 2010 was predictable, the event demonstrated that EMC remains clear in how it envisions private cloud computing and that its cloud-oriented solutions are gaining strength and steam among company clients. Just as importantly, the collaborative, innovative relationships between EMC and companies, including VMware, Cisco, Dell, Brocade, SAP and others offer a view of the future of IT notably different than that pursued by increasingly consolidation-minded systems vendors.

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.

4 Responses to EMC World 2010 and IT Vendor Evolution

  1. ghaff says:

    I agree up to a point. Although you could also look at EMC/VMware/Cisco as just a big virtual company in the mold of HP or IBM. (Of course, that overstates how welded together at the hip they are and the different between virtual and for-real is probably significant.)

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  3. chasking says:

    Good point, though I think EMC/VMware/Cisco are aiming for something closer to IBM than HP. The most interesting details to me were the degree of attention being paid to the VCE Coalition by its members C-level execs and Mike Capellas leadering Acadia. To my mind, this suggests a higher level of seriousness than is typical in many IT vendor collaborations.

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