EMC’s ‘Simple’ Evolution

EMC’s slew of software purchases over the last few years
has enabled the company to broaden its scope.

This has led to new programs like Making Storage Simple (MSS), unveiled
earlier this week to serve small- to medium-sized businesses.

While EMC isn’t exactly reinventing itself as a systems vendor, the company
is increasingly looking like an IBM, Dell
or HP in the fullness of its offerings.

Just four years ago, the idea that EMC would cater to SMBs would seem
laughable because the company was so focused on the $1 billion and more
accounts of large businesses. It also specialized in making hardware systems
and proprietary software to run on them.

But after shelling out more than $3.5 billion on Prisa
Networks
, Astrum
Software
, Legato,
Documentum, Dantz and
VMware,
the Hopkinton, Mass., became a software player to be reckoned with.

Mike Wytenus, senior director of mid-market enterprise at EMC, admitted that
such a program would be impossible had EMC not snapped up some software to
complement its broad hardware systems line.

In a recent interview, Wytenus said that EMC is taking pains not to “dumb
down” its high-end provisions or force them down the throats of mid-sized
businesses. At the same time, the company seems keenly aware that SMBs can’t
afford products targeted for the high end.

That leaves them with one option: create new solution bundles that offer
rich functionality at a cost affordable to smaller clients. It sounds a lot
like what IBM, HP and Dell have done to serve smaller clients, and Wytenus
didn’t deny the connection.

“The making up ground is a function of executing through the channel with
the right solutions,” Wytenus said. “In the past, we didn’t have a
simplified, affordable mechanism to deliver through the channel to reach
those hundreds of thousands of customers. We think we have those now through
the MSS approach.”

Analysts roundly approved the strategy, noting the headroom for business
growth in the SMB space.

“EMC has historically not invested in serving the lower segments of the
market,” said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Pete Gerr. “But like every
other storage vendor, they have acknowledged that the SME, SMB segments are
not only going to acquire technology faster than the large enterprise over
the next couple of years, but they’re also growing at a good rate.”

Gerr continued: “So this is a segment that is really underserved by
world-class vendors. I think this is EMC’s formal program to not only make
their partners more successful, but also help those customers who don’t have
a lot of IT skills or budget but need to protect their storage and grow just
like the big guys do.”

Pund-IT analyst Charles King said the SMB sector seems to be an especially
sweet spot considering the turgid growth of the enterprise IT market.
Moreover, he was encouraged that EMC isn’t relying on Dell to go to market
with MSS, as folks might expect, because of the companies’ strong
relationship and Dell’s expertise in selling to SMBS.

“While HP and Dell have a strong presence among SMBs (largely due to
significant depth of low-end offerings and strong Web/retail sales efforts)
vendors with traditional ties to large enterprises like IBM and EMC are
taking a different tack by expanding SMB-aimed solutions and growing their
channel relationships,” King said.

So if we put IBM and EMC in the same boat on so many fronts, is that enough
to classify EMC as a true systems vendor? Not yet, King said.

“I don’t see EMC as a systems vendor in the classic sense, since to me that
denotes a company that offers end-to-end solutions of some kind. But I think
the company understands that through close, canny partnerships and alliances
(Dell, Microsoft, Intel, Cisco) they can be seen as a ‘virtual’ systems
vendor rather than a high-end specialist,” King said.

One of the most salient points for Making Storage Simple is that EMC has
stepped up its alliances with Cisco, Intel and Microsoft, which was rated by Gartner as one of the top providers for SMBs.

Gerr said he hopes EMC will continue to learn from Intel and Microsoft how
to treat its partners. Intel and Microsoft can help teach EMC how to better
position and treat the channel. This is a key test because, Gerr said, EMC
has had a reputation for not treating its channel partners so well in the
past. He expects that to change.

“I see a lot of potential upside here,” Gerr said. “Be as critical as you
want about EMC as far as their reputation or how they do business, but the
fact is the products are consistently among the best, if not the best, out
there. If it can execute and treat its channel partners well, the program
will do well.”

King agreed. He also said IBM and HP can’t be too keen on the program.

“Given EMC’s success over the past couple of years (while most other
vendors’ storage sales have been flat or outright disappointing), the
company’s competitors are unlikely to be happy about this announcement,”
King said.

Clint Boulton
Clint Boulton is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor and a senior writer for CIO.com covering IT leadership, the CIO role, and digital transformation.

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