EMC World 2016 – Respect for the Past, Context for the Future

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  May 3, 2016

I’ve attended EMC World trade shows for about as long as the company has been running them, since 2001, when the event primarily focused on the needs of enterprise storage professionals. Those days are long gone, of course, as is the notion that storage wholly defines EMC. Storage is still critical to the company’s business but it’s also just one portion of its greater organization and its continuing strategies in complementary businesses and markets.

More importantly, EMC stands on the cusp of a significant transformation as its purchase by Dell nears closure in what will be the IT industry’s largest-ever acquisition. That reality certainly colored EMC World 2016 this week in Las Vegas but the larger context for the event was to connect EMC’s past successes with a vision of the future that it shares with Dell.

Tucci’s adieu

EMC president and CEO Joe Tucci kicked-off EMC World 2016 as he does every year but with a recognition that this keynote would be his last as leader of an independent company. The standing ovation he received was as unsurprising as it was deserved. Tucci’s success and longevity are doubly remarkable when one considers the challenges he has faced during his tenure.

Tucci joined EMC in January 2000, just months before the dot.com bubble burst and pushed the high flying tech industry into a tailspin and hard landing. Then less than a decade later, his leadership helped the company survive the largest global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Along the way, Tucci guided EMC through a radical transformational effort via the development of numerous new products, dozens of acquisitions, including memorable deals like VMware, Data Domain, RSA, XtremIO and Virtustream, and innovative partnerships, like the one with Cisco, VMware and Intel that resulted in VCE.

Tucci also provided EMC greater stability than many of its competitors and a day/night difference from the business turmoil and revolving door leadership that some, like H-P, have suffered over the past 16 years. Not surprisingly, Tucci was gracious in his keynote, acknowledging how partners and clients in the EMC World crowd had contributed to the company’s success, and stressing the importance of focusing on customer needs and preparing for the future via modernization efforts. By doing so, he prepared the way for his introduction of heir apparent, Michael Dell.

Dell onstage

Not surprising (at least for anyone who’s seen his recent appearances), Dell was upbeat to the point of near-giddiness, and why not? Here is a guy who, in the space of less than four years, is on the verge of completing the second of two deals that supposedly saner voices said were essentially impossible – taking his namesake company private and buying EMC for $60B+.

Dell focused most of his comments on the importance of data center modernization as a way for companies to prepare for future business and market-altering technological innovations. In addition, he stressed how important the commonality of focusing on customer needs will be to the success of the combined businesses.

Dell also made the EMC World crowd the first to know the name of the new umbrella organization – Dell Technologies – and its enterprise-focused division – Dell EMC. Those weren’t especially earthshaking points, but they signaled the fact that the deal many derided and some predicted would never occur is on its final approach for a safe, successful landing.

What also struck me during Tucci’s and Dell’s keynotes and the Q&A session they hosted afterward with press and analysts were the similarities between their organizations and accomplishments. As noted above, Joe Tucci has spent much of his time leading EMC by embracing strategies and efforts that essentially transformed the company from a mainstream storage player into a vendor of a wide variety of business-ready data center solutions and services.

Compare that to what Michael Dell has accomplished since his return to his company’s CEO position in 2007. Prior to that, Dell was primarily known as a purveyor of customizable PCs and laptops, took a PC-centric view of R&D spending and had only made a handful of acquisitions in its 20+ years of history. Since 2007, the company significantly expanded its R&D efforts and completed two dozen deals, many of which have opened it to essentially or entirely new business and market opportunities.

Similar to what Joe Tucci achieved with EMC, Michael Dell transformed his company into an end-to-end systems vendor with a clear focus on the mid-sized organizations that make up a significant portion of the company’s business. It is no surprise that the two seem so comfortable in joint appearances. Nor is it surprising that Tucci recognized in Dell someone capable of continuing his transformational strategic vision in the future.

Day 1 announcements

Like every EMC World before it, product and strategy announcements were deep on the ground this week in Las Vegas. The news included,

  • A new EMC Unity portfolio aimed at providing affordable, flash-based solutions for SMBs
  • The Virtustream Storage Cloud, a new solution arising from the Virtustream acquisition designed for enterprise workloads,
  • MyService 360, a cloud-based service dashboard for EMC data center environments
  • EMC Copy Data Management (eCDM), a cross-enterprise solution for monitoring, managing and analyzing copy data
  • ViPR Controller 3.0, an update of EMC’s solution for managing storage assets in traditional and cloud-native environments
  • EMC Horizon, now rebranded EMC LEAP, a suite of purpose-built, cloud-native content apps for content management
  • EMC InfoArchive 4.0, a unified enterprise platform for extreme (petabyte scale) compliant archiving scenarios

It was an impressive group, but I believe the new Unity platform and the Virtustream Storage Cloud service were the high points. The former incorporates and extends features from the existing EMC VNX platform, and is designed to provide a powerful, attractively priced all-flash solution for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to counter specialists like Pure Storage. EMC Unity’s SMB focus is outside company’s typical enterprise constituency, but the sheer size and growth of the SMB market make it a critical area for expanded efforts. Just as important, EMC Unity will give Dell and its SMB channel partners a lot to love as soon as the acquisition process is completed.

The latter case – the Virtustream Storage Cloud – is clearly focused on the needs of enterprise customers, organizations that EMC has decades of experience successfully serving. While some commentators seemed to think that AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure are the competitors EMC is setting the Virtustream Storage Cloud against, I believe IBM’s enterprise-class SoftLayer offerings and customer base are closer to the mark. In any case, the new offering should provide Dell assets and opportunities in the enterprise cloud services arena that it currently lacks.

Final analysis

Overall, Day One of EMC World 2016 fulfilled expectations and offered some interesting surprises. But perhaps most importantly, it offered the company and its soon to become parent, Dell, opportunities to publicly expand the conversation about how they plan to work together in the future. That’s an important point for a deal that, despite its audacious path to success, continues to attract criticism that’s as unsubstantiated as it is vociferous.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion but it’s worth considering those critics’ previous denigration of other unconventional strategic efforts, including the results of EMC’s VMware acquisition and the market leadership of its VCE organization, and Michael Dell’s vision of becoming an end-to-end system vendor and, then, taking his company private.

Considering those points makes more than a few of today’s vocal naysayers resemble the little cranks who whined, “Wolf!”

That’s it for Day One. There’s more to come.

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