EMC shapes plans for VMware

EMC Corp. officials said last week that the company will move quickly to release products that incorporate VMware Inc.’s server virtualization technology, once EMC’s US$635 million acquisition of VMware is completed early next year.

The officials also stressed that users won’t have to buy EMC products to take advantage of VMware’s technology and pledged to increase research and development at the acquired company.

The possibilities for both vendors’ product lines drew some users’ interest.

Robert Stevenson, a technology strategist at The Weather Channel Inc. in Atlanta, helps oversee about 250TB of storage across multivendor storage systems from IBM Corp., Hitachi Data Systems Corp. and EMC. Stevenson said EMC’s goal of virtualizing the server stack in order to run multiple instances of storage management software without requiring an additional server piques his interest.

Stevenson, like many storage administrators, believes that storage management is clunky and that reallocating or resizing storage resources for business applications takes too much time and disrupts operations.

“If a virtualization technology can help us enable more storage consolidation without host downtime or impact, I’m interested,” he said. But Stevenson also criticized most virtualization technologies as being too narrow in scope and as locking “users into a particular vendor’s product, which is not enabling virtualization on a heterogeneous level.”

VMware user Tony Adams, a technology analyst at J.R. Simplot Co., a US$3 billion agribusiness corporation in Boise, Idaho, said, “VMware excels in both their technology and their customer relations. It’s my understanding that EMC is also very customer-focused, so if they can maintain or even strengthen VMware’s technical position, then existing enterprise customers should be in good shape.”

VMware faces competitive pressure, particularly from Microsoft Corp., which gained virtualization technology in its Connectix Corp. acquisition earlier this year. By becoming part of EMC, Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware gains the backing of a “very large, well-capitalized” company with a lot of influence in the data centre, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

EMC, meanwhile, is a direct competitor in the storage arena with IBM, a company with which VMware has a close partnership. Haff said he doesn’t expect any radical changes in that partnership, but IBM could become cautious in the future. EMC officials, citing the differences in product lines, said they expect no conflict.

In a statement, IBM said it will still work “closely with VMware and will continue to complement our virtualization offerings for Intel systems with partner technologies.”

EMC maintains that its own and VMware’s product lines will benefit from the acquisition. For instance, EMC’s Symmetrix Remote Data Facility allows one storage array to mirror in real time an array in another data centre. If there’s a need for the application to switch from the primary to the secondary site, there may be some application downtime.

But by integrating VMware’s storage and server virtualization capabilities, EMC said it will have a technology that allows an application to switch to a different array without downtime. “That is one of the first things we will be working on,” said Chris Gahagan, EMC’s senior vice-president of storage infrastructure. That technology is expected to be ready a few months after the sale is completed, he said.

William Hurley, an analyst at Enterprise Application Group in Portland, Ore., said VMware gives EMC an operating platform on which to run the many management applications it has obtained over the past year through acquisitions.

Hurley added that while those management applications provide EMC with a greater opportunity to control more of the data center stack in an automated fashion, the company will fall short of its vision to offer users a policy-driven technology that controls data storage from cradle to grave if it doesn’t integrate those products into a single management suite.

“(EMC has) to be able to address the fact that they do have IBM and other diversified vendors…helping customers achieve a lower overall business TCO, as opposed to selling them pieces of an overall larger technology puzzle,” Hurley said.

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