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EMC World Reporter's Notebook

A bear economy and drenching rainstorms raged on outside the Orange County Convention Center during EMC world this week. Inside, though, there were lively conversations in the hallways of the sprawling convention center, most looking forward to the future despite this year’s fiscal headwinds.

EMC to add cloud options for Networker, Avamar and RecoverPoint

One more EMC storage product roadmap nugget before we conclude our coverage of the show – senior vice president of storage software Mark Sorenson said Tuesday afternoon that EMC is planning cloud integration for at least three of its backup and replication software products: NetWorker, Avamar and RecoverPoint.

Sorenson said he expects enterprise customers will want a hybrid approach to storing data in the cloud, with some data left on-site. NetWorker will offer backup to EMC’s cloud data center as a media option. Customers without their own DR site will be able to replicate Avamar Data Stores or storage arrays using RecoverPoint to the cloud as a secondary data center. The NetWorker and Avamar integrations will come first, with RecoverPoint integration expected next year.

EMC eyeing Axxana?

Speaking of RecoverPoint, startup Axxana demonstrated its Phoenix DR appliance with RecoverPoint integration on the show floor. Axxana describes its product as a “black box” resistant to fire, earthquake, power failures and flood. It performs replication using cellular signals.

It intrigued me when Sorenson, unprompted, pointed to Axxana among all the others on the show floor. He also said EMC has already made a $1 million investment in the Israel-based company. He wouldn’t say anything about whether an acquisition is likely, of course, but it’ll be worth watching out for.

EMC product convergence, revisited

For a few years now, I’ve been harboring a sneaking suspicion about EMC’s hardware products. Ever since I saw an executive at a customer event talk about a unified backup and archiving appliance, I’ve been noticing more and more similarities among EMC’s other products as well. There are the common disk array enclosures (DAE) between Symmetrix, Clariion and Atmos; the disclosure here at the show that the fully automated storage tiering (FAST) feature already added to Celerra and Symm will be ported to Clariion by the end of this year; the use of the same Intel processors within Clariion and Symmetrix V-Max.

Because of these developments, it’s been easy to imagine future arrays that would work like the fabled unified backup appliance – standardized commodity hardware that’s given personality by software. I’m not the only one who’s gotten that impression, either.

But if that’s EMC’s ultimate strategy, they spent some time at this show trying to steer people off that trail. Joe Tucci said in a press Q&A Monday that while Clariion and Symmetrix will be able to “talk to each other” sometime next year, and despite the common processors, the two remain distinctly different in hardware as well as software. Even though they have the same kind of processor, they have different quantities of processors inside the system. In the midrange Clariion system, dual controllers mean 50% performance degradation if one fails; with more “engines” in the Symmetrix, it can take more of a licking and keep on ticking.

And what ever happened to that unified backup appliance? Back in Sept. 2007, the timeframe set for the release of the product was within 12 to 24 months. I asked an EMC spokesperson about it, and received this statement in return:

We don’t have plans for a combined backup and archive appliance.

Since [the] presentation [in 2007] we have delivered Avamar appliances and continue to deliver Disk Library appliances for backup. We also continue to provide Centera as our primary platform for archive.

Integrated management is central to EMC’s data protection strategy for its customers and we’ve already executed off that strategy with a number of our announcements including those announced today. Much has changed over the last two years around next-generation infrastructures and based on the feedback we’ve received from our customers, we feel we are making the right integrations to help our customers reduce complexity, increase storage efficiency and cut costs.

Now that I’ve seen V-Max and Atmos, I can understand how my guesses at the future of EMC hardware were close, but I don’t expect full convergence as described with the backup and archive appliance.

VMware, Cisco, EMC host press panel

EMC’s Chuck Hollis, Cisco’s Ed Bugnion and VMware’s Parag Patal held a panel discussion with press Tuesday morning to emphasize the coziness of what they’re calling the VCE alliance.

Given the disconnect between EMC’s rhapsodizing about an automated virtual future and the inherent conservatism of the storage audience, I asked the panelists when they thought this “new paradigm” they’re talking about would come to fruition.

“I still talk to some people who see iSCSI as newfangled,” Hollis said. “We won’t see majority adoption for many, many years.”

Server virtualization, which lays the groundwork for the new virtual data center we heard so much about at the show, “has already passed its tipping point,” Patal pointed out.

Cisco talks FCoE adoption

Also on the adoption-trends front, I had a pretty interesting conversation over lunch Tuesday with Bill Marozas, senior manager of business development and partner management in the data center unit for Cisco. We were talking about how the economic downturn might affect adoption for FCoE, because financial services firms were seen as the most likely early adopters and that sector is struggling. Marozas said this would probably impact adoption, but that many companies are already “planning for the upturn.”

The problem, I said, is that any upturn in our economy will probably involve fundamental changes to who and what drives it – we might see overall economic revitalization, but in sectors like Web 2.0 rather than financial services. I don’t think financial services will return to where they were earlier this decade at all, after the consolidation or collapse of so many firms in the last year.

The most likely place for FCoE to find a home given the state of the financial services industry is probably in either the healthcare or energy sector, both of which are undergoing massive digitization efforts right now.

But after the economy, there are also plenty of questions to be answered about the technology. It needs to be more clearly explained, for example, exactly how Cisco’s MDS FC director switches — which Marozas said will remain available even as Cisco pushes its Nexus switches into the market — fit into the FCoE picture. And if you’re keeping your FC director while adding new top-of-rack switches for FCoE, where do the infrastructure savings and consolidation come from? Stay tuned for more follow-up here.

Attendance down, economy to blame

According to CEO Joe Tucci’s keynote, there were 9,000 total attendees – including EMC staff, partners, press and analysts as well as end users – at EMC World 2008. This year EMC claimed more than 7,000 attendees. A decline, to be sure, and I spoke with several users prior to the show who had attended in previous years but were sitting this one out because of travel budget restrictions. However, the show seemed livelier and much bigger than Storage Networking World, also held in Orlando last month. The fact that the show still went on was a victory in the current climate; competitors NetApp and Symantec both called off their user conferences earlier this year.

Complete EMC World 2009 coverage.

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