EMC World 2014: Why “Redefinition” Matters

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  May 14, 2104

By one definition, to define something refers to determining its boundary or spatial extent or to settle its limits (Oxford English Dictionary, Second Ed., 1961), so to redefine simply repeats that same process. But why or when is redefinition actually necessary? Returning to the example cited in the O.E.D., the process might be appropriate if the literal boundaries of a country have been altered by war or political events, or due to cataclysmic occurrences, such as the floods that have shifted the channel of the Rio Grande River on several occasions and thus redefined the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

But redefinition can also act metaphorically to denote shifts in attitude and belief. How so? Sometimes it reflects changes in experience and knowledge that foster new or different perceptions. Sometimes it occurs during or after alterations in strategy, but the process of redefinition can also occur after changes in circumstance trigger shifts in direction and goals. Whatever the case, just as definition is part of the normal process of being human, redefinition reflects the elemental changes that are constant in daily life.

Redefine: EMC World 2014

This rumination is partly the result of spending time at EMC World 2014 last week in Las Vegas, where Redefine served as both the conference’s slogan and the company’s call to action. As a result, Redefine played a central role in virtually every executive presentation, including those by Joe Tucci, EMC’s chairman and CEO, David Goulden, CEO of its Information Infrastructure group (EMC II) and Jeremy Burton, president of EMC’s Products and Marketing. In addition, it also impacted ancillary events, such as the announcement during EMC World that the company had acquired DSSD, a start-up company led by Silicon Valley icons Andy Bechtolsheim and Bill Moore.

The roots of EMC’s redefinition rest in what market research firm IDC calls the transition to the Third Platform of IT. In IDC’s view, the First Platform was defined by centralized mainframe computing, and the Second refers to client/server infrastructures. In contrast, the Third Platform is denoted by widely diverse and dispersed IT assets like mobile endpoints, from smart phones and tablets to Internet of Things (IOT) sensors, supported by hybrid cloud computing and software-defined data centers.

Their inherent flexibility allows Third Platform solutions to be seamlessly adapted to customer-centric social and collaboration processes, but the complexity of these infrastructures requires vendors to fundamentally alter their approach to solution design and deployment. As Jeremy Burton noted, “During the past 15 years IT has been less about innovation and more about implementation.” Moreover, the transition to Third Platform computing will result in generational, tectonic changes within technology vendors and the greater IT industry. Those who fail to redefine themselves risk being left behind.

Steps to the Future

You could argue that EMC has been successfully redefining itself for years, beginning with its steady shift from being a leading vendor of enterprise class storage systems to adopting a far broader strategy of enabling and delivering information infrastructure solutions and services. These efforts have been driven with a combination of steady organic investment (EMC spends an average 12% of annual revenues on R&D) and dozens of innovative inorganic acquisitions, including businesses like VMware, Isilon, RSA, Greenplum, XtremIO and Pivotal Labs. In fact, the aforementioned companies all played key roles in various announcements at EMC World 2014.

But we also saw evidence of subtler, elemental changes which proved that Redefine isn’t simply a convenient buzzword for EMC:

  • Integrated Innovation—As a storage solutions provider, EMC consistently makes good on its commitment to working with vendors of every stripe, including many that are direct competitors. But that doesn’t mean the company can’t or won’t leverage innovative integration to its own and its customers’ benefit. For years, EMC has optimized its storage systems for VMware solutions, resulting in significant “pull-through” sales of storage in VMware-virtualized environments. At EMC World 2014, representatives of EMC’s Pivotal group and its Isilon organization noted that, while both are achieving notable individual success, the pair is also enjoying synergies that they are exploiting to enhance and grow sales of big data solutions and services.
  • Flash-Enabled Future—EMC has long focused on the benefits that flash and SSD technologies deliver across numerous storage products and scenarios. In fact, the company highlighted new solutions and guarantees for its flash-based XtremIO storage systems (including a $1 million guarantee to the first customer that can prove its XtremIO inline data services have switched off, throttled back or defaulted to a “system garbage collection” state). But the flashiest news at EMC World 2014 was the acquisition of DSSD, a stealth start-up that is developing flash cache server tier solutions. The deal made a major splash due to the combined star power of the company’s leadership (both Bill Moore and Andy Bechtolsheim played significant roles at Sun Microsystems and other major IT vendors). But the bigger news is that by acquiring DSSD, EMC should be able to move quickly and adroitly into delivering flash cache solutions.
  • From Virtual Systems to Hybrid Best of Breed—The acquisition of VMware allowed EMC to move from being a pure storage player to being a “virtual” systems vendor with solutions spanning numerous global markets. The company has further evolved that strategy through creative, innovative partnerships that are especially evident in VCE, the best-of-breed converged solutions provider EMC jointly owns with Cisco and VMware. VCE marked a milestone during EMC World 2014, announcing that it had surpassed its 2013 goal of generating $1 billion in annual sales, and that demand for its Vblock products and related services reached a $1.8 billion annualized run rate exiting Q4 2013. With demand for Vblocks exceeding 50% YOY and the company rapidly moving into new markets and use cases, VCE offers yet another clear example of how EMC is successfully redefining itself.
  • Empowering Partners—The steady shift to converged systems has resulted in vendors taking integration, optimization and deployment processes in-house, pushing out many business partners, including value added resellers (VARs). In stark contrast, EMC World 2014 included initiatives designed to grow the company’s partner efforts through new unified programs, enhanced incentives and expanded offerings. In particular, EMC added several options to its “partner only” product line, including the VNXe3200 array, the DD2200 (Data Domain) deduplication system and enhancements to the VSPEX portfolio, including 11 new options. We found the expanded VSPEX offerings particularly intriguing, as they offer business partners reference architectures for flexibly building solutions with optimized EMC storage that support a wide range of server, networking and virtualization technologies.

Final Analysis

Annual customer and partner conferences commonly provide vendors opportunities for charting where they’ve been and where they’re going. That’s a given, especially in an industry as addicted to embracing the “new” as IT is. But there’s often a wide gap between how companies talk up new developments and what they are actually doing to ensure that they themselves and their customers and partners benefit from those changes.

EMC World 2014 certainly focused on new commercial technologies, both individual solutions crafted by the company and its partners, and broader Third Platform trends that promise to impact and influence the entire IT industry. But more importantly, EMC clearly charted the course it means to pursue across this new frontier, along with the changes it anticipates and means to embrace along the way.

As a result, the EMC that emerges during the transition to the Third Platform will likely appear quite different than the company is today. But to its credit, EMC’s plans also include the means for customers and partners to enjoy the benefits promised by the Third Platform. That will require every organization and individual involved in that journey to redefine their plans, hopes, understanding and expectations. Fortunately, EMC will be with them every step of the way.

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