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Dell and EMC: OEM vs. reseller

There’s been some head-scratching around the storage industry after EMC CEO Joe Tucci and CFO David Goulden said on EMC’s earnings call last week that EMC would discontinue its reseller relationship with Dell. The execs said Dell and EMC would continue to focus on their OEM relationship, but didn’t go into detail about what it all really means.

The subject came up again today at the 451 Client Conference in Boston, where an EMC employee who requested anonymity clarified: OEM means anything Dell sells under the Dell brand. That means Clariion and some Celerra, for which Dell handles some of the manufacturing. The reseller relationship was based on opportunities turned up by Dell that were referred to EMC — this involves Clariion and Celerra, but also Symmetrix in some cases.

On the earnings call, Goulden said Dell Clariion revenues decreased 15% sequentially, though overall Clariion revenues were up 1%. Dell still accounted for 25% of overall Clariion revenues, and within that, 15% was attributable to the OEM business.

So, the first thing this change in relationship means is the potential loss of about 10% of EMC’s Clariion revenues, although those customers may still buy Clariions through EMC or its other channel partners. Tucci said EMC and Dell would try to “pick up the slack” with OEM sales as the reseller relationship is de-emphasized.

It also means, ostensibly, that Dell will no longer be referring Symmetrix sales when suitable opportunities arise.

Dell’s margins are higher and it makes more money from the OEM deals — where it also handles support -– than from the reseller deals. But by giving up Symmetrix reseller deals, will Dell leave an open door for its customers to go to Hewlett-Packard or IBM? Or will Dell find another partner? If so, who? And just how close would that partnership be?

Dell’s acquisition of iSCSI vendor EqualLogic – which makes systems that sometimes compete with Clariion – worked out well, and Michael Dell said in June he was looking to acquire companies. 3PAR, which makes disk arrays that compete with Symmetrix, was mentioned by storage industry watchers as a potential acquisition target for Dell, although the $3.9 billion buy of Perot Systems in September put the kibosh on most of that speculation. 3PAR’s market cap is currently at a little over half a billion, so it wouldn’t be quite as much to swallow as Perot.

In light of all this, what should we make of Dell’s surprisingly aggressive response to EMC’s announcement of a new joint venture with Cisco and VMware this week? What about the fact that Dell’s Clariion sales declined though EMC’s grew? Is the on-again/off-again Dell/EMC coziness back off again?

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