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Analysts see EMC/Dell relationship fading

Despite both companies’ protestations to the contrary last year, analysts on Wall Street and in the storage industry still see the coziness between the two companies trending down in the wake of Dell’s PS6000 Series launch today.

As part of its announcement today, Dell noted that the EMC NX-4 array it’s reselling is now shipping. Although Dell did not immediately qualify the product after EMC’s launch, Dell’s senior manager of storage Travis Vigil said “joint customers are still asking for us to produce more joint solutions together.”

But some industry-watchers see a different picture. Wall Street analyst Aaron Rakers of Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research sent out a note to clients today in response to the announcement pointing out a decline in Dell-generated revenues for EMC Clariion and the PS6000’s potential competitiveness with the EMC disk array:

Dell’s continued push with its EqualLogic iSCSI SAN arrays remains important to EMC … as a headline negative. For its January 2009 quarter, Dell had reported that its Dell/EqualLogic revenue grew more than 100% yr/yr [year over year], which implies that the company’s organic storage revenue decline in the mid/high-single digit yr/yr range. The company had reported that PowerVault (low-end NAS) revenue grew solid double digits yr/yr, which implies even weaker Dell/EMC CLARiiON revenue. EMC generated 10.9% of its 4Q08 revenue through Dell, of which the company reported that Dell had accounted for approximately 25% of the company’s total midrange CLARiiON revenue (Emphasis in the original)…

This is down from the disclosed 30-35% Dell/EMC CLARiiON contribution reported a year ago. The new Dell/EqualLogic PS6000-series scales up to a total capacity of 576TB (PS6500E), which compares to EMC’s CLARiiON CX4-series (introduced in August 2008) that currently scales up to 960 drives or up to 951TB in the high-end CX960. The new PS6000E arrays could be positioned competitively against the CLARiiON CX4-240/480 arrays with 231TB and 471TB, respectively. It remains important to note that Dell/EqualLogic systems are iSCSI SAN only (i.e., no FC-based SAN support), which we believe to be the way Dell is positioning CLARiiON relative to EqualLogic.

Other industry sources tell me Dell is positioning Clariion different relative to EqualLogic, specifically leading with Clariion when FC is asked for but now when the customer requires iSCSI or “unified” storage.

. “I think they continue to sell it those customers who want a traditional FC storage system, but they lead with EqualLogic and the value of modular, scale out storage system until the customer asks for something else,” Forrester Research analyst Stephanie Balaouras said. “That’s my analysis, not anything Dell has communicated. Every storage vendor out there knows that in tough economy it can’t be business as usual. It’s the right time to lead with different storage approaches and systems.”

However, even if the relationship is on the decline, it’s unlikely that a breakup is imminent. “It is a marriage of convenience,” said Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) founder and senior analyst Steve Duplessie. “But it really works. They sell a lot of stuff because of each other. Dell’s got great coverage in places EMC isn’t.”

Duplessie said he’s detected the same tension others are picking up on. “You talk to them and you can see it in their faces,” he said. “They both want to be in control. Dell can’t be happy to see [EMC CEO Joe] Tucci onstage with [Cisco CEO John] Chambers talking about blades, and conversely, if you’re EMC, you can’t be too happy to see Dell buy EqualLogic.”

But, Duplessie added, “if it ain’t broke…it’s not like money is easy to come by these days. I would be stunned if either one of them deliberately ended [the relationship]. I think it would be evolution and a kind of Darwinism that runs its course.”

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