EMC aims for "ease of use" at EMC World

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For one week in May, EMC's top executives preached to the choir at EMC World in Orlando, FL, telling everyone within earshot that the company is making its products easier to use.

"We've listened to you and we're responding," said Dave Donatelli, EMC's executive VP for storage product operations, in his keynote speech. But several EMC users at the show said "ease of use" is a moving target. One senior EMC software developer even conceded that "we still have a long way to go."

Donatelli happily detailed how EMC has reduced the number of clicks required to provision storage in its arrays. For example, with Clariion's Navisphere task bar wizards it now takes only one minute to provision 1TB, or 16 clicks, and just 11 clicks to create a clone for a backup, said Donatelli.

EMC also plans to offer a "Celerra Start-up Assistant" later this year, which would move a new Celerra into production in approximately 15 minutes and take "two clicks to thin provision a file system," said Donatelli. He added that with Symmetrix Management Console 6.0, the number of clicks required to set up and activate one TimeFinder snapshot session has dropped from 21 to three.

But not all users were impressed with EMC's new provisioning wizards. "To get any kind of granularity [for provisioning] you have to do it manually," said Earl Hartsell, senior IT analyst at Solvay Pharmaceuticals. Hartsell said the simplified provisioning in Clariion is good for new users, but makes life more difficult for people used to doing things the old way. "You think about it one way and then they make a 180-degree turn," he said.

Bill Dorough, senior systems engineer and architect at CSC in Indianapolis, said EMC's effort to make its products more usable is a double-edged sword. "We can pass off more tasks to junior administrators, but if something goes wrong they have no idea how to get past the GUI," said Dorough. "The kids coming up today only know [how to work with] wizards."

Furthermore, as wizards and GUIs get more complex, providing dense graphics that explain how to do things, they consume more CPU power. "They often run Java, which is slow, and we need to be aware of anything that's sucking up power," said CSC's Dorough.

EMC's response is that a lot of the growth in the storage industry is happening at the low end of the market. "Small businesses don't want to tweak all the dials," said Barry Ader, senior director of Clariion marketing at EMC. "Usability helps us go down market into a space we historically couldn't reach."

There are ways EMC can make products easier to use other than hiding complexity with point-and-click wizards, such as making it easier for its products to work with each other and with other vendors' products. To that end, EMC is aggressively moving Avamar's data deduplication capabilities into some of its other products. Version 3.7 of Avamar now supports VMware Consolidated Backup, which EMC claims will reduce the backup times for virtual machines by as much as 90%. The software also supports Celerra NAS systems, and EMC has added new operating system and application support to Avamar for HP-UX, Mac OS platforms, and Oracle and IBM DB2 databases.

During a press conference at EMC World, Joseph M. Tucci, EMC's chairman, president and CEO, was asked how much EMC is spending this year to make its products work better with those from other vendors, as well as its own stable of products. While Tucci refused to say how much EMC will spend, saying it's "classified," he did say that "having a large user base is both a curse and a blessing. Everything we do has to work with everything we've done before. It takes a lot of time and money."

Richard Reitmeyer, EMC's chief software architect for information recovery management (who worked at Legato prior to its acquisition by EMC) said in a podcast recorded at EMC World that to improve usability, the company should integrate its products more tightly by developing suites of products out of the "vertical stovepipes" it now sells.

"[Our products] would be easier to deploy and easier to learn. We should start by grabbing the low-hanging fruit by unifying our fonts and icons between products," said Reitmeyer. "We can fix that; we should fix that."

--Rich Friedman, with additional reporting by Jo Maitland

This was first published in July 2007

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