EMC enters new era of co-opetiton with its storage rivals

Like it or not, EMC's going to have to play nice with arch rivals IBM, Sun and HP if it expects to do business with their customers.

EMC is moving into the world of open systems -- at least partially -- with the introduction of its first AutoIS storage management products at a New York press conference Monday morning. The new management and middleware products will extend EMC's reach out to rival storage products for the first time. But a core set of "platform" products, including TimeFinder, SRDF remote data facility and SnapView, will remain "differentiators,"...

available only on EMC hardware and unlikely to be ported beyond them.

Support for multiple hosts has been one of EMC's strongest selling points against the server makers -- particularly IBM, Sun and HP -- which, even when professing to support rival servers with their storage products, rarely showed any enthusiasm for actually doing so. Accordingly, EMC has been outselling those vendors even inside their own user bases. But with the rising popularity of storage area networks, users have become more interested in the possibility of consolidating storage systems from multiple vendors into a single storage pool. EMC's resistance to this trend was turning into a liability.

By maintaining a measure of 'proprietary' control over its Symmetrix disk array, EMC has succeeded in keeping margins high on its core hardware sales. But times are changing, and margins slipping. EMC began the process of opening up its technology in August 1999, by providing its first application programming interfaces to third-party software developers so that they could customize their own products to integrate with tools such as TimeFinder and SRDF. It claims to have won support from over 75 software vendors, including most of the big names in database backup, cluster failover and systems management.

The new products announced this week include WideSky, which is a storage management middleware product that provides a common access method for multivendor storage management, encompassing host, switch and storage resources. It's an extension of the existing APIs, now including support for Compaq, Hitachi, HP, IBM and Sun storage boxes, and it resides on the hosts and switches. EMC won't be selling WideSky separately, instead it will come bundled in with ControlCenter applications.

Next on the list is ControlCenter Open Edition, the latest version of the ControlCenter management console. By using Oracle 8i under the covers, it can be used as a management tool for multivendor setups, so that storage applications from other vendors can use the same information. Frameworks from CA, HP and Tivoli can be used to extract billing information, for instance.

A third product, ControlCenter StorageScope, is a business-level reporting tool for storage infrastructure that runs on a Windows-based server. It monitors such things as what resources have been allocated, how much is used, who is using it and for what.

And finally, Replication Manager sits on top of EMC's TimeFinder, SnapView or the Compaq and Veritas equivalents, and simplifies replication tasks such as recovery, testing, reporting, discovery and management.

WideSky is available immediately. ControlCenter Open Edition is due within three months. StorageScope is available in 30 days, supporting EMC, Compaq and NetApp devices, with HDS and IBM Shark support due in the fist half of next year. And Replication Manager is immediately available for EMC Symmetrix/TimeFinder, Oracle databases and file systems on HP-UX and Solaris, with wider support during the first half of next year.

EMC's move to open up its software will bring it into closer competition with the software vendors such as Veritas, IBM's Tivoli, HP (OpenView) and Computer Associates. But it's attempting to work with those vendors as well as against them. It will also pose a challenge to Hitachi, which has used EMC's reluctance to fit into multivendor storage setups as one of its selling points. Amdahl, in conjunction with its parent Fujitsu, is planning similar support for multivendor installations, and plans its own announcements very shortly.

EMC has shown some reluctance to acknowledge that customers might want to install storage equipment from other vendors alongside their EMC hardware. In the short term, the move could slow down sales of new EMC hardware, as customers see a chance of consolidating existing storage resources for the first time and making more efficient use of them.

Looking longer term, EMC had no choice but to capitulate. Stung by EMC's incursions into their own user bases, the server vendors have become wise to EMC's blind spot and have begun to fight back with their own open software tools. More seriously, the new move toward virtualization threatens to take away much of the device-level storage intelligence that has so far kept EMC's customers locked into expensive Symmetrix boxes.

EMC calculates that by opening up at least some of its software, it will keep its customers loyal. It's a calculated risk as to how much of its crown jewels it opens up to the competition. That's why SRDF and TimeFinder are currently being held back as differentiators. EMC is maintaining its forecast that 50% of its revenue will come from hardware, 30% from software and 20% from services by the end of next year. In other words, it will remain primarily a maker of hardware.


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