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EMC's Storage Strategy

In its 2002 annual report, EMC described its strategy in a one-line statement: It was the only company 100% dedicated to automated networked storage. What a difference a decade makes! Now EMC is an information infrastructure company with a broad portfolio of products and services, including VMware and RSA. Still, amidst all the talk about the cloud, big data, and the software-defined data center, storage continues to be a central focus of its product portfolio. At the company's recent Industry Analyst Summit, EMC explained how that storage portfolio fits within its overall strategic themes.

EMC's storage portfolio is anchored at the high end by the products of the Enterprise Storage Division (ESD) and in what is traditionally described as the midrange products of the Unified Storage Division (USD).

ESD products such as VMAX emphasize the reliability and advanced data management capabilities (such as for disaster recovery protection) that are necessary for mission-critical systems, such as online transaction processing systems. As you might expect, VMAX commands a higher price for these capabilities.

The USD division features the converged infrastructure VNX product line. (Convergence means that it can meet file-based NAS and block-based SAN requirements.)

Having at least two distinct storage lines is a common theme with EMC as well as with its competitors. (Dell, HDS, HP, IBM, Oracle and NetApp, although how direct that competition actually is depends upon the particular vendor and use cases.)

While this dual-division strategy has served EMC well, in recent years two monkey wrenches have been thrown into the gears of the traditional market model: the growth of non-structured data and the need for flash-based storage.

A Lack of Structure

The first monkey wrench is the rise in non-structured data (that is, data that doesn't reside in a relational database). The basic label for this category is big data, but the category also covers use cases such as online archiving and other data-driven intelligence applications. The requirements around this category include simplicity, low cost and high capacity.

EMC decided this market had a lot of growth potential, so it acquired Isilon. Isilon offers scale-out NAS in conjunction with its distributed file systems and its OneFS OS. It is suitable for the big data market, including vertical markets such as streaming video and other media, where it already has a strong presence. (Note that EMC also offers Greenplum, but, as an appliance, Greenplum takes a different tack to the big data market.) EMC touts the simplicity of Isilon and views the Isilon Storage Division as enabling two storage worlds--big data and enterprise scale-out--that address the first monkey wrench.

EMC isn't the only vendor playing here, of course. At the high end, IBM offers Scale Out Network Attached Storage (SONAS), with which IBM supports millions to billions of active files in a single namespace. At the lower end of the market, Scale Computing offers a product that can scale out both performance and capacity in a virtualized environment. Panasas focuses on scale-out computing in areas such as high-performance computing. And, of course, Dell and NetApp also want to be counted in the ballgame.

Next page: Flash Transformations

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