Dell-EMC: What Storage Customers Should Do

In the wake of Dell's proposed acquisition of EMC, customers should re-evaluate their storage choices and prepare to see some product lines discontinued.

Howard Marks

October 16, 2015

4 Min Read
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Just about everyone who writes about business or technology has written something about Dell’s announced acquisition of EMC. Most of the coverage, including my first post, concentrated on the financial implications for Dell and EMC. While we all find the financial gymnastics interesting, customers of Dell, EMC and their competitors are more worried about what the deal means to them than to Michael Dell, Joe Tucci and the Wall Street crowd.

The first thing we as customers have to remember is that the deal doesn’t actually close until sometime between May and October of next year. Since these things almost never happen early that means that Dell and EMC will continue as independent companies for about a year.  So the first customer takeaway is written in large letters on the cover of "The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy:" DON'T PANIC.

The first effect most users will see from the deal is going to be a reshuffling of people from EMC to other vendors. Some EMCers are already heading to the lifeboats, either not interested in working for Dell or just wanting to avoid the year or more of hard work and uncertainty that the acquisition will involve.

Since EMC has long been a high-touch, sales-driven organization customers, will see new faces from EMC, and later EMC/Dell, as some of the coin-operated sales force looks for greener pastures. This will also lead to those same, now former EMC salespeople calling from their new homes at HDS, Pure Storage and the rest of the storage industry.

This shouldn't panic users, but users -- especially big ones and those whose software or infrastructure stacks are dependent on particular Dell or EMC products --  should take the year or so that it will take before Dell-EMC is fully baked to reevaluate their infrastructure vendor list and product choices. One of my close friends, who runs storage at a company that spends several million dollars a year with EMC told me he got an email from senior management asking how the deal might affect their company; their plan is to add another storage vendor to hedge their bets.

Storage customers should ask themselves:

  • Are we buying EMC Symmetrix or VMAX arrays for performance that could come cheaper from an all-flash array?

  • Are we using Dell or EMC products that are likely to be toe-tagged as Dell and EMC consolidate their product lines?

And of course:

  • Have we gotten too cozy with our current storage and/or storage suppliers?

The second question is at the top of most customers' minds. While my crystal ball isn’t completely clear, and has a nasty crack in it from some late-night prognostication, I do have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen to several product lines, especially in the primary storage arena that’s EMC’s greatest strength.

For primary storage, Dell has the MD series of low-end arrays OEM'd from NetApp’s EF series, EqualLogic for SMEs, and Compellent modular arrays. All are block devices that need Windows Server or Dell’s scale-out Fluid File system as a front end. These compete with EMC’s VNXe and larger VNX unified storage systems for small and midrange systems.  

Dell already announced that its “merging” the scale-out iSCSI EqualLogic line with the scale-up Compellent line, which most of the storage cognoscenti take to mean, “We’ll make it so an EqualLogic can replicate to a Compellent and replace EqualLogic with new little Compellents in the product line.” As a result, current EqualLogic customers should be planning to shift to a new storage platform over their next refresh cycle.

I’m also pretty sure VNX will replace Compellent, while I could easily argue that the Compellent architecture is technically more advanced than VNX. After all, VNX is a continuation of the 20- year old Clariion line EMC acquired with Data General back when we were all partying like it was 1999. However, EMC has been advancing VNX technology faster than Dell has advanced Compellent and sells several times as many VNXs as Dell sells Compellents.  Killing Compellent will annoy a lot fewer customers than killing VNX, and since Dell Enterprise will be run by current EMC folks in Hopkinton, I’m confident VNX will win this battle.

It will play out much like when HP bought 3PAR and we were all sure 3PAR would replace EVA as HP’s midrange storage solution. Dell will release one or two new generations of Compellent kit as it slowly kills the product. I would be surprised if Compellent went end of life before the end of 2017 and since Dell is historically slow to drop the ax, Compellent could live on to 2018 or 2019.

However, Dell’s DR4000 series of deduplicating backup targets are a clear target for an early death. EMC’s Data Domain has over 75% market share and Dell-EMC could probably replace all the DR4000s in the field with Data Domains cheaper than continuing R&D on the line.

A wise man once said the only thing you can count on is change and that’s especially true in today’s storage business.

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at:

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