EMC plans for more storage automation

It is common knowledge that, thanks to disappearing markets and an ailing economy, almost all facets of the networking sector are taking a hit – and that definitely includes the storage sector.

But despite the grim outlook, one storage vendor says it isn’t worried. At its annual Analyst Day, held at the World Trade Center in Boston earlier month, Hopkington, Mass.-based EMC Corp. revealed it is confident that it will make a rebound, essentially by offering its customers a choice. And when company President and CEO Joseph Tucci took the stage, he explained just how the company plans to do that.

Tucci acknowledged that the company has had to tighten expenses and cut jobs – including a four per cent reduction of employees worldwide last May – but he explained it did this to save money now in order to position itself for the future.

“We are helping our customers in this time of need,” he stressed, adding that customers want EMC’s help, and do not want anything that will limit them at this time.

“We are absolutely feeling the hit of this economy…(but) now is the time of opportunity.” Technology, he explained, is what has led EMC since its inception, so it is only natural to continue to focus on technology in order to gain back market share. EMC’s approach to customers is distinct, he continued, because it is focused on offering them a choice.

“It’s not NAS, it’s not SAN, it’s network storage we’re after,” Tucci explained. “We are delivering what customers want: hardware, software and services.”

He said EMC wants to ensure its customers get the full benefits out of their investments, and EMC is poised to do that by offering a combination of all of these together. The company also said it will support third-party hardware.

But more importantly came the announcement of the company’s vision for what it calls “automated information storage,” or Auto IS.

Information storage is still evolving, the company admits, but the next stage in this evolution is Auto IS. This includes two major elements, according to Jim Rothnie, EMC’s senior vice-president and CTO. During his presentation at the event, he explained this technology is comprised of data abstraction and data mobility. Abstraction occurs when users deal with an easier, more logical model of storage – such as virtualization – instead of the physical systems.

Mobility, he explained, is the ability to re-route to adjust traffic to accommodate the active and automatic parts. The next generation of software from the company will allow for this type of movement of information within network storage, he said, without the need for labour-intensive activity on the part of people.

This type of focus will certainly not hinder the company, according to one Canadian analyst. While EMC has been noticeably quiet in the Canadian press in the past, Canadian customers have been giving the company their attention, said Alan Freedman, research manager, servers and workstations for IDC Canada in Toronto.

“Actually, from 1998 to 2000, [EMC Canada] was the fastest-growing office or subsidiary of EMC. So they were doing really well. I think they quadrupled their revenues within two years,” Freedman said.

He added that in terms the enterprise disk space in Canada, EMC is number two only to Compaq Corp., and is closing the gap.

“I think that they are on the right track. They definitely have a focus. They definitely have a strategy, and that’s increasing automation and – they’ve been saying it for probably the last 15 to 18 months – that their main goal is software,” Freedman said. “They try not to even categorize themselves as a storage hardware player anymore. So I think that what they talked about (at the event) is well aligned with their corporate strategy.”

He added that he believes this is the place where storage vendors are going to have a competitive advantage or are going to differentiate themselves.

One thing that did stick out was the company’s lack of commitment to any sort of timeframe. While none of the company’s officials would offer any date for products that will include Auto IS, it was simply said that its next generation of software will include it.

Freedman also noted this type of attitude when it came to the company’s financial situation.

“The one thing that I didn’t like (at the event) was that [EMC Executive Chairman] Mike Ruettgers kept saying, ‘When the economy picks up, we’ll be fine. When the economy picks up, yes, one or two quarters after that. When the economy picks up, this is going to go into effect.’ So he was very guarded about saying when any of these changes might drastically affect the bottom line,” Freedman remarked.