EMC World 2015 – Staying on Track While Looking Ahead

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  May 12 2015

If you attend annual IT industry customer and partner conferences as regularly as I do, you notice certain similarities in the proceedings. Vendors typically use these events to communicate their efforts of the previous twelve months, the value of their current crop of solutions and services, and their plans and strategies for the coming year and beyond. Linearly temporal messaging keeps things easy to understand, but it also denotes that a natural order is underway – that in an often uncertain world, the host vendor is progressing and evolving with certainty.

Of course, that isn’t always the case. Change is hard, and conscious evolution is all the harder. Many vendors struggle to stay in place, buffeted by unexpected shifts in their core markets and areas of expertise. Others attempt to move in fresh directions and embrace new opportunities but are dragged back by nervous partners and fearful customers.

Some make carefully detailed plans, embark with great fanfare and still end up broken on the rocks. But a few clearly understand that pursuing and embracing evolution is not merely a goal but a process that requires continuing dedication and adjustment. EMC World 2015 provided fascinating insights into one of the few IT vendors successfully pursuing that often difficult process.

Balancing value and innovation

EMC issued several announcements during the conference that loosely followed a theme of delivering additional value for existing solutions and customers while pursuing future-focused innovations. This is a balancing act, of sorts, that sometimes results in painful pratfalls but not for EMC. The former group included significant updates and additions to the company’s XtremIO, VMAX³, VNX, Data Domain and data protection solutions.

The most intriguing of these were enhancements to EMC’s enterprise class VMAX³ systems and XtremIO all-flash arrays, both of which are designed to enhance overall performance while considerably easing management and administration tasks. If EMC succeeds, increasingly stressed customers and their IT organizations will be thankful.

The more future-focused announcements occurred on the second day of the conference with EMC introducing Project CoprHD (“copperhead”), an open source version of its ViPR Controller software-defined storage automation platform and a free “no restrictions” download for non-production use of its ScaleIO solution which turns existing server-based storage into shared block storage. These both highlight EMC’s continuing expansion of developer-focused strategies and solutions.

The company rightly believes that engaging with developers, particularly younger professionals focused on creating emerging “third platform” mobile, social, cloud and big data/analytics applications is crucial to its future efforts and success. Pivotal, which as part of the EMC Federation focuses on solutions intersecting cloud, big data and agile development, takes much of the lead in such efforts, but EMC {code} also offers a variety of developer repositories and support services.

Two other announcements were particularly future-focused. One was the introduction of VCE’s new VxRack Systems (discussed in detail in last week’s Pund-IT Review). The other was the new VSPEX family expansion with VMAX 100K, which gives customers the ability to seamlessly bridge VMware private cloud deployments (of up to 2800 VMs) with public clouds, and connect on- and off-premises workloads into hyper-consolidated hybrid cloud environments.

In essence, these efforts indicate that EMC is successfully moving fully beyond its storage-specific roots and underscore the important roles that converged and hyper-converged solutions play in the company’s future. VCE has a particularly strong portfolio of solutions designed to benefit EMC’s traditional enterprise and service provider customers. But VSPEX is designed to ensure that EMC’s channel partners can fully participate and prosper in the growing market opportunities for these offerings.

Innovation over breakfast

During the conference, I breakfasted with EMC customers who clarified the often unique value of the company’s solutions. One was a system architect from the HealthEast Care System, the largest, locally owned healthcare organization in the East Metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., with 7,300 employees and 1,500 physicians on-staff. The company was facing problems in its IT environment which was at 89% capacity for space, power and cooling. But complicating that was the decision to replace its existing medical records platform with the Epic Electronic Health Record (EHR) system.

HealthEast worked with local VARs to analyze bids from several vendors, including three finalists: EMC/VCE, Hitachi and IBM. In the end, only EMC/VCE guaranteed that they would meet HealthEast’s aggressive schedule, so the company ordered three VCE Vblock 720 systems, EMC Isilon storage for archiving for MRIs, X-rays and other medical images, and EMC VPLEX, RecoverPoint and Data Domain for back-up, recovery and data deduplication processes at the company’s primary and back-up data centers. The new hardware was delivered within 30 days of being ordered, and the Epic system was up and running a month after that.

The new EMC/VCE solution accommodates more than twice as many VMs as the previous system (1,100 vs. 500), while taking up just 58% of available space, power and cooling capacity. As a result, HealthEast can simultaneously support both the new Epic system and its legacy applications while delivering 30% improved total-cost-of-ownership (TCO). In addition, capturing first year operational savings of 50% allowed the company to further invest in Epic solutions, such as MyChart Bedside, an interactive application designed to enhance patient care. The combined EMC/VCE solution delivered far better results than expected and did so by meeting a timeline that no other vendor could match.

Embracing transformation

Transformation has certainly been on EMC’s plate for some time now, but the subject and its related challenges also concern many customers. That was the reasoning behind EMC World meetings on the subject hosted by executives from the company’s cross-Federation IT transformation organization, driven by EMC Global Services, and the session I attended included over a dozen attentive customers. According to the EMC executives, transformation can and should occur in three specific business areas: infrastructure, operations and applications, all pursuing an end goal of transforming IT into a service organization capable of supporting new business models, new technologies and new business skills and roles.

What is driving the need for proactive transformation? Two things. First, an anything-but-subtle reordering of businesses and customers’ expectations is occurring everywhere. Amazon has fundamentally redefined the retail experience for tens of millions of consumers. But consider what companies like Uber and Airbnb are doing to change, respectively, local transportation and hospitality businesses. Second, IT organizations obviously need to reliably support traditional business processes but are also expected to successfully enable new opportunities and outcomes. The EMC Federation offers a host of solutions and services designed to help customers attain these goals. If the attendees’ active engagement with the presenters was any indication, EMC had a load of transformation consultations following the conference.

Focus on the future

What does the future hold for EMC? That subject was discussed in a number of EMC World venues, including an update to the company’s recently released The Information Generation: Transforming the Future, Today market research study (which was covered in the April 16, 2015 edition of the Weekly Review). In very real ways, the new study acts as a follow-on to EMC’s ground-breaking Expanding Digital Universe research surveys (2010 and 2012), which provided deep insights into the continuing massive growth in data creation and storage, and the challenges facing organizations and individuals attempting to manage and gain insights from that information.

The Information Generation follows a somewhat different track by examining the attitudes of businesses attempting to cope with and serve growing millions of technologically-enabled ‘digital citizens’ across the globe. The results were not especially sunny; though the vast majority of executives surveyed recognize the difficulties facing them, only a small fraction said their organizations are prepared to effectively meet and overcome those challenges. In one regard, that obviously stands as a huge problem, but it also qualifies as a massive opportunity for vendors that are astute and innovative enough to devise effective solutions. The message from EMC World 2015 is that the company plans to be a leader in such efforts.

Final analysis

Did I come away from EMC World 2015 with any concerns or caveats? A couple. Any company planning for the future is bound to make occasional losing bets. That introduces a certain level of uncertainty into EMC’s longer-term strategies and expectations, but the company’s leadership position in its traditional markets means that it should have a solid position from which to prepare/pursue new efforts. In addition, EMC’s Federation (in which wholly or mostly owned business units, like Pivotal, RSA, VCE and VMware operate as largely independent entities) is unusual by IT industry standards. If anything occurred to upset that balance, the results and impact on the company would be unpredictable.

Beyond that, EMC World 2015 highlighted the current position and future plans of one of IT’s most interesting and unique vendors. Everyone knows that change is a constant and that, in a quickly-evolving industry like IT, proactively embracing change is a critical necessity. But talking about change is far easier and safer than getting into the sweat and risk that proactive evolution requires. EMC has been pursuing such efforts for several years now, and from what I saw and heard at EMC World 2015, the company’s hard work is paying off handsomely.

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