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EMC Co-Opts Competitors' Best Features

While the EMC marketing machine pushed a science fiction theme in the presentation of its announcements this week at EMC World, I was amused that several of what I thought were the most significant new and improved features were actually ideas first implemented by some of EMC's biggest competitors. The EMC folks apparently didn't agree with me, as the Steve Austin model of "bigger, stronger, faster" got more time from most of the presenters.

As the keynotes continued, there were too many cheesy science fiction and pseudo-science references to list, from a Star Trek original series captain's chair and yeoman in uniform, to arranging the number of announcements to be 42 (the answer to "Life, the universe and everything," from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which Pat Gelsinger mangled to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe). The room set up to preview the all-flash array from newly acquired Israeli startup XtremIO was even labeled "Area 51," with signs declaring members of the media "will be banned from this session"--which, of course, included this humble reporter.

My personal favorite was the reference to data half-life. In physics, the half-life of an element is the time it takes for half of it to decay into another substance. If I were EMC, I would try to avoid ever putting the idea of decaying data into my customers' minds.

As I mentioned, I was struck that along with the expected performance boost, upgrading to newer Xeons has brought EMC the added ability to virtualize external storage behind its flagship VMAX arrays. This feature, Hitachi Data Systems blogger Claus Mikkelsen was happy to point out, has been the key feature of Hitachi's USP and VSP arrays for several years.

The other interesting case of EMC learning from its competitors is the rewrite of the midrange VNX unified storage system's snapshot mechanism. It had used the copy-on-write method, which had a significant performance impact and limited the VNX to eight snapshots per volume; it now uses the redirect-on-write method used by NetApp, which has significantly less overhead.

Some may think that the adoption of features and technologies your competitors used as key differentiators is a low form of copycat-ism. I think it takes a certain humility to realize your competitor actually had a good idea and add it to your product.

EMC's execs compared the company's myriad uses of flash to Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors. Now with the release of VFcache, the product formerly known as Project Lightning, hints about to follow on shared- flash "server area network" Project Thunder and XtremIO, EMC does seem to have all the flash bases covered. Until this week, EMC may have had 31 use models for flash, but they were all rooted in the very expensive SLC version. That's now joined by the more affordable eMLC in some arrays.

While we weren't rewarded with a single blockbuster announcement (the closest was the XtremIO acquisition just before the show) at EMC World, this year's assembly of some 15,000 of the EMC faithful brought the kind of incremental improvements we all need.