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EMC World 2009 - Hands, Hearts and Minds in the Cloud

For IT industry analysts, vendor conferences such as EMC World 2009 can be sources of rich information and insight. Not only are there scores of sessions that drill down into technology and product details, but these events also offer numerous opportunities to engage individually with vendors' executives, partners and customers. Some may dismiss the "big tent" keynote events where companies' C-level executives offer scripted takes on significant broad strategic issues, but we have a different perspective. While those presentations are designed to portray companies in their best light, individual interactions provide the opportunity to test the focus and clarity of those portraits and to add in color and shadow.

As my colleague Dave Hill of the Mesabi Group notes, the overriding theme at this year's EMC World in Orlando was the company's vision of cloud computing. Broadly speaking, there was little in the way of surprises here, since cloud has been a dominant theme for virtually every major IT vendor during 2009. However, both EMC and VMware have been carefully honing their complementary cloud strategies for months to a point where some competitors' cloud notions are dull by comparison. But what was particularly interesting was the degree to which cloud themes inhabited most every major and minor EMC presentation, and the overall clarity of the company's underlying messages.

Those points were clear in EMC President Howard Elias' "IT Infrastructure: Poised for Change" keynote session, where he hosted a panel of experts including EMC's CTO and SVP Jeff Nick, the company's SVP of Resource Management Software Chris Gahagan, its SVP of Cloud Infrastructure Mike Feinberg and VMware's VP of Emerging Products and Markets Dan Chu. A lively discussion and responses to questions posed by conference attendees resulted in some general conclusions. Perhaps most important was the notion that for most companies cloud computing is a "journey" rather than a destination. This fits in with both the incremental nature of the vast majority of current cloud deployments and the still evolving state of commercial cloud solutions.

But the journey to cloud computing presents some complex problems and thorny challenges -- particularly as regards security and automating resource management -- the group was unanimous in its belief that cloud computing is simply the next evolutionary step for enterprise IT. That, in turn, underscores EMC's and VMware's concept of internal (based in corporate data centers) and external (hosted by various service providers) cloud resources being safely blended in "private" clouds that offer organizations the best of both worlds: fully secure computing autonomy and seamless, federated access to business applications and additional IT resources whenever and wherever they are needed. This is more than a few steps beyond vendors that are focusing on cloud computing as a simple infrastructure play, and stands in marked contrast to companies that hope to lead or dominate future cloud-based IT service offerings.

Much of EMC's cloud-based work is evident in offerings such as its Information Infrastructure for VMware solutions, which combine VMware virtualization with EMC's information infrastructure to maximize IT flexibility and responsiveness. Related to this, Chad Sakac, VP of EMC's VMware Affinity Initiative, hosted a presentation on EMC's VMware-related efforts. Though "virtualizing everything" is the primary goal of this work, Sakac noted that EMC is progressing systematically, pushing virtualization-enhanced functionalities "up the stack" of business applications and processes rather than just moving them along.

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