Storage vendors should have knocked EMC down when they had the chance

Storage Bin: Storage vendors should have knocked EMC down when they had the chance. Now, it may be too late.

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EMC has once again proven to everyone that superior sales and marketing will always win out over superior technology. As long as people make purchasing decisions, the salesperson will be the most important cog in the machine--not the machine itself.

For 15 years, EMC had its way with the storage business. Smarter, faster and more aggressive, it wrote the rules in this business. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the Jag dealer--it stumbled. It didn't realize that it needed to be price-sensitive in a down economy. It didn't even realize that it was a down economy. It got caught with its hand in the proverbial economic cookie jar, and IT people used it as a way to get even with the giant.

That was two years ago. EMC was never more vulnerable. IT people used the then-economic conditions to punish EMC for its long-standing arrogance. IT was back in the driver's seat. The window was open--and the competition was welcomed in with open arms. The times, they were a-changing.

Remember when Digital was king? It could do no wrong--until the bad times of change blew on in--and they never recovered. IBM squished them high, and the PC market killed them low. A door of opportunity opened, and the competitors ran through with reckless abandon. Bye-bye, Ken Olsen.

EMC was just as vulnerable. Its hardware was way long in the tooth, and all the competitors had better stuff. The software play was stillborn. IT people were enjoying making the salesforce squirm and discount. Joe Tucci agreed that they had been "arrogant."

And here's the amazing part: While all those that competed in some area or another with EMC had the greatest opportunity they would ever have to knock the giant down, they didn't. They didn't take advantage of the obvious weakness EMC was experiencing. They didn't really gain any significant share, and certainly didn't steal any significant revenue. They may have propped up their own install bases, but they didn't capitalize on the fact that EMC was a hurting puppy. Instead, they waffled, and let the big guy heal. And guess what? EMC is baaaaaaack--and it's kicking rump all over the playing field.

What happened?

EMC opened up an executive stud farm. It hired the best and brightest from all over the place. It took cost out of products. It built best-of-breed again, and it sold the hell out of stuff. It is now winning the deals--on its terms. EMC pretty much started from a position of weakness, and rebuilt the market in its image. Say what you will, these guys are good. The competition spent too much time building better products, and not enough time building better companies.

The only other players that have dominated through ups and downs in this space have been Network Appliance and Veritas. Both came from nowhere, killed the incumbent way of doing things and have crushed the competition ever since. You don't think Sun and CA had good stuff? Of course they did, it's just that no one ever got to know about it.

This was first published in April 2004

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