Q&A: EMC’s CTO on the storage-security mix

Jeff Nick is probably the best person to take EMC Corp. on its continued innovation journey from a storage management vendor to an information infrastructure vendor.

Chief technology officer of the Hopkinton, Mass.-based company, previously spent 24 years at IBM Corp. where he filed more than 80 inventions and holds more than 50 U.S. patents in computer systems technology.

But in EMC’s quest to redefine itself amid the explosion of data growth, and increased complexity in IT infrastructure, applications and the way users and technology interact, the company is shifting its role from supplier of technology to supplier of solutions.

ComputerWorld Canada caught up with Nick at EMC’s Innovation Day in Cambridge, Mass., where the company discussed its strategy to continue innovating through research, acquisitions, partners, employee programs, and product integration.

EMC has shifted from a traditional content storage vendor to providing a security component to customers. We’ve seen how EMC acquired RSA, and Symantec acquired Veritas. What are your thoughts on how vendor roles are changing in this way?

Jeff Nick: We’re seeing this in the industry in multiple dimensions. There’s a lot of consolidations occurring. Some of the large vendors are becoming massive providers of any capability that you want in any field of IT. That’s not our approach, we don’t want to be all things to all people. We want to be the best at the sectors that we participate in. The fundamental shift by most of the major players is to try to move up the food chain into other value propositions, and that’s a natural evolution, and certainly, we’re doing that too. It’s partly we’re moving there, and partly our customers are encouraging us to go there, because if you’re focused as an infrastructure company, it’s a lot about the hardware and software that is very resource management-centric.

When you start talking about the data becoming information and the information becoming knowledge, you’re pulled by the customers and opportunities to actually help customers get more value out of information. And if you think about it, the reason why I’m so excited to be at EMC is I grew up in large computer systems at all levels of the stack, but at that time resources were very expensive and optimization resources was critical. We’re at a point now where resources are more commoditizing, human costs are high and value is in the information. So the most precious asset that companies have is the information which is the absolute lifeblood of the company. All of a sudden, all of the technologies that we bring to bear around the more fundamental capabilities of discovery, archival, data protection, replication, backup, and disaster recovery are essential. But that gets you to take care of the information, not to unlock the value of the information. And it’s just a natural progression.

We already are holding it in our storage and we’re keeping it available and protecting it from a recovery perspective, then I guess we’d better secure it. Yes, we’re proactively moving into these adjacencies because we see the value and our customers are seeing the value, too, and are encouraging us. So we’re building out capabilities in all dimensions in information value delivery.

Where do services play a role in EMC’s strategy?

JN: You’re really moving up to a solution focus as opposed to just a technology focus. This is a major area of growth for us because we don’t want to be just a general purpose consulting company. Tying together our technologies into coordinated integrated solutions is what we’re about. Services is actually the integration point for our capabilities and delivering a higher value proposition for our customers. That’s a significant change for EMC in the past couple of years.

At the enterprise level, historically, users and IT managers toiled in separate camps: users typically interacted with an application interface to create content, and IT managers stored that content once produced. But now, they are forced to consider the entire lifecycle of a document. How do these changing roles influence EMC as an information infrastructure vendor?

JN: To your point, it’s not enough any longer to treat data as just data. You really do have to understand the data, what type of information is it, what are the legal, fiduciary and other contractual obligations and ramifications to information. When individuals via their application are done with a particular set of information, it doesn’t mean that the firm is done with it. When a user in an organization with access to a set of information moves to a different part of the organization, they shouldn’t have access to that information anymore, even if they were the one who created it. User identity and their roles, location and the information itself needs to be handled differently depending on the information.

The reconciliation of all of those dimensions drives an urgent need for what I would call policy governance. You set up your policies based on the information itself, based on who you are and what your roles are. That combination drives a policy governance for the lifecycle of the information that extends well beyond the consumption by a particular collection of users. Right now, that is a mess for customers. Compliance in governance is not about a single asset, it’s not about a single set of information, it’s not about a single application.

When we say EMC is where information lives, ‘lives’ means it’s at rest, it’s in flight, it’s in use, it’s moved, it’s reused, it’s augmented. Even with questions about data lineage and ancestry, when you say you want to delete something, maybe you need to delete the entire trail of that information set. It’s customer information and they asked you to delete it, guaranteed deletion. You’ve got to not just find the current state but you’ve got to find all of the state. That is a fundamental challenge for enterprises, and therefore a huge opportunity for companies not just to think of themselves as a technology supplier, but as a solutions supplier.

What can enterprise customers expect from EMC in the next 12-18 months that will address these challenges?

JN: The theme, obviously, is integration and cross leverage of technologies and products, and more and more we will continue to deliver at an accelerated rate products which are combinatorial in that they take capabilities from discrete products and bring them to bear in coordinated solutions, either delivered as solutions with services, or as a more tightly integrated product. Security is a keen area of that focus and we’re already taking technologies from RSA, for example, and using those technologies for encryption and key management into our storage arrays. And we’re bringing together the content technologies, security technologies, data storage, data protection and management technologies so that we get holistic information security end to end.

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