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EMC (NYSE: EMC) earlier this month held the first of four regional forums intended to give customers insight into where the storage giant is heading, and the picture that emerged is one of a company whose ambitions have moved beyond mere data storage to managing the enterprise-wide "information infrastructure."
The first Forum 2008, held in Long Beach, Calif., on August 14, focused on integration of EMC products with VMware (NYSE: VMW) and RSA Security, greater virtualization functionality, the new Clariion CX4 series, consumer product plans and solid state flash drives. While EMC didn't intend to feature flash, it came up in session after session and became the dominant undercurrent of the day.
"Very soon, we all will be using flash drives," said Dave Nicolson, a technology consultant at EMC. "There are a lot more flash OEMs now, so the price decrease in the next 12 months will be even greater than the 45 percent drop we have already seen in the first six months of this year."
When the company started these one-day jaunts five years ago, 150 customers showed up at the L.A. event. This year, 1,000 attended. They were served up a keynote and six tracks: Technology and Storage Innovation; Enabling the Virtual Infrastructure; Next Generation Backup; Accelerating Business Value for Microsoft; Securing Critical Assets and Managing Information Risk; and Managing Your Organization without Compromise.
The common thread throughout the day was the EMC tagline of information infrastructure. Howard Elias, president of EMC's global services and resource management software group, said every study on information growth over the last few years has underestimated the rate of acceleration. Rather than managing information in a bit and piece fashion, it has to be taken care of in an all-encompassing infrastructure. And providing that infrastructure is EMC's latest obsession.
"An information infrastructure makes information work with increased value, flexibility, efficiency and cost savings," said Elias. "As well as storing and protecting information, you have to virtualize and automate it, plus add intelligence to it."
Thus, there is a grand plan afoot where EMC intends to cobble everything together for end-to-end management of the whole kit and caboodle instead of management tools and consoles for servers, storage, virtualization, networks and security, you will be able to use one screen for a cross-domain view of everything. Those tools would tie in nicely with ITIL and its Configuration Management Database (CMDB) to provide one way to discover what's out there and manage it centrally.
"We are two-thirds of the way towards rearchitecting our management tools," said Elias.
The problem is that this campaign hasn't quite captured the imagination in the same way that information lifecycle management (ILM) did a few years ago. The new push is actually far broader and more encompassing, yet no one else has tried to copy it, although Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) and Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD) have put forth a vision for converged networks.
Obviously, the achievement of this vision will take an awful lot of integration. And that's where a lot of EMC's R&D bucks are going. The company is investing heavily in integration of its tools with VMware and RSA Security products. Watch out for lots of encryption and key management bells and whistles. And expect plenty of trumpet blowing about the virtual infrastructure this is EMC's ambition to tie VMware into file virtualization (Rainfinity) and SAN virtualization (Invista).
One flaw in all this: There still seems to be a major disconnect between VMware and the rest of EMC. The VMware sessions were probably the most heavily attended, but it seemed a little incongruous to have a room of server uber-geeks running amok in the middle of a storage conference. But EMC persists in giving VMware massive PR support its own track at the EMC Forum and much of the second day of EMC World.
Flashy Clariion Call
The recently announced Clariion CX4 also got plenty of attention.
While different speakers laid out features such as spin-down, 1 TB drives, new replication options, multiprotocol flexibility and virtual provisioning, all the audience interest centered on flash being added to Clariion. Initially, flash will come out around October for the CX4-480 and CX4-960 models only.
"Flash will be the preferred platform for high performance and low energy usage," said Elias.
During a later session, Lou Przystas, an advisory consultant at EMC, predicted that flash would change the industry in the long term. He believes that in about two years or so, its price/performance ratio will mean that people will choose it over Fibre Channel (FC) drives.
In terms of energy usage, a 15K RPM 73GB FC drive with fully striped RAID has energy costs of $900 per year, said Przystas, while 1TB SATA at 5400 RPM cost $40. Flash, on the other hand, slaughters FC on performance and has lower energy usage than SATA drives.
"Flash will be the home for high performance, and FC or SATA for volume," he said.
Web 2.0 and the Cloud
Przystas stressed that EMC is heading up market as well as down market
Upwards means Hulk, the codename for a new Web 2.0 clustered storage system (see What Is Web 2.0 Storage?).
"Hulk is aimed at the likes of Verizon, Google and Amazon who need lots of storage," he said. "We are talking about 300 TB in a drawer and up."
EMC's downward trajectory, on the other hand, comes courtesy of its Mozy and Iomega acquisitions. Iomega will be the face of EMC in the retail front, with Mozy as the place to back it all up. Currently, Mozy provides 2 GB of free backup (see EMC Links Cloud Storage, Hard Drives).
If EMC succeeds in the consumer market, Elias believes this will also feed into the high end like Hulk. With millions of people encouraged to store more and more, massive back-end systems will be needed by Internet service providers.
"A booming consumer business has a cascading effect on our enterprise business," said Elias.