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EMC: The highs and lows of 2004

EMC made some important improvements to its core products, snagged a big cheese from IBM and sold 30 petabytes of Centera, but next year will be a bigger test for the company.

EMC Corp. has had a noticeably quieter time this year than its acquisition-spree shocker of 2003. If last year was EMC's year for expanding into new markets, this year was about adding to, and improving, the products it already has.

The purchase of server virtualization company VMware closed in January, which by all accounts was a smart move. A panel of chief information officers (CIOs) at a recent Goldman Sachs conference in New York showed overwhelming support for the product. A Goldman Sachs report on the event notes that VMware was mentioned time and again as an exciting "game-changing" technology with no real current competition.

"CIOs brought up VMware as a "game changer," as it allows them to increase server utilization and consistently do more with less," the report says. However, it's still not clear how EMC will integrate VMware with its storage products. Still, the panelists agreed that the company's decision to diverge into new areas beyond storage was a good thing, as it helped them to lower their management costs by consolidating the number of vendors they have to deal with.

Midrange and SMB update

In April, EMC introduced the Clariion CX300, CX500 and CX700, replacing its older mid-tier arrays. These boxes offer better performance for the same price and were quickly followed up with further moves down market with the AX100, a sub-$5,000 box sold through the channel only. Also on the low end, EMC announced the NetWin 110 NAS gateway for Windows. This "low-cost" box costs $6,100.

Pushing further into the world of small businesses, EMC acquired small and medium-sized business backup provider Dantz Development Corp. and Allocity Inc., which sells storage management and provisioning software for Microsoft Exchange users. The total spent on these companies came to $60 million, a drop in the ocean compared with the whopping sums it dropped in 2003.

NAS refresh

To improve its NAS market share against Network Appliance Inc., the top dog in this market EMC, introduced a bunch of NAS products, including the Celerra NS700G, NS700, CNS 514 Data Mover and an upgrade to its NAS operating system, DART Version 5.2.

Around the same time, the company jumped on the backup-to-disk bandwagon, quietly announcing an OEM deal with FalconStor. Its Clariion ATA-based disk library is a rebranding of FalconStor's virtual tape library.

Enhancements to Symmetrix DMX, dubbed DMX-2, midway through the year included doubling the cache to 256 gigabytes (GB), support for 73 GB /15,000 RPM Fibre Channel drives and AutoSwap software that enables users to redirect mainframe storage workloads without disrupting application processing. AutoSwap costs a cool $200,000 for a typical configuration. Additional options for mirroring, parity RAID and RAID-5 were also added.

Symmetrix replication catches up with the times

Another new offering in 2004 that should offer real value is Symmetrix Open Replicator, which enables users to replicate data to IBM, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) or Hewlett-Packard Co. storage arrays, instead of another Symmetrix -- with obvious cost benefits.

EMC's archival product Centera, which addresses the compliance market, sits in the middle of this list, because while the company announced its one-thousandth customer this year and has shipped 30 petabytes to date, far outstripping any other compliance product, there are still some problems with it. Check out these stories for more details: Security flaw could put EMC Centera users at risk and EMC dodges question on Centera performance. On the positive side, EMC did improve the connectivity options available for Centera.

There were no major management changes at EMC in 2004, apart from the appointment of 24-year IBM veteran Jeffrey Nick as chief technology officer. Nick was hired in September, and holds 50 U.S. patents in computer systems technology. He was responsible for the design and architecture of IBM's "on-demand" and grid computing strategies. The hire shows that EMC is thinking beyond storage.

ADIC deal key to ILM strategy

EMC talked non-stop this year about ILM, or information lifecycle management, which is about storing data on the appropriate resources. Tiered storage is the practical implementation of ILM, and at a basic level involves putting the most frequently accessed data on the fastest, most reliable storage and least important, infrequently accessed data on the cheapest boxes.

In June, EMC rounded out its ILM offering through a reseller deal with Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC). It finally fixed this through a reseller deal with ADIC and now sells its Scalar tape libraries. ADIC in turn resells EMC's Clariion products as part of its Pathlight VX virtual tape product.

Last but not least, EMC announced that its ControlCenter management software, and its Symmetrix and Clariion products now support SMI-S. This means that third-party management applications can now manage EMC arrays, and ControlCenter can support other vendors' hardware. This is a big deal for users in heterogeneous environments.

2005 and beyond

Looking forward, EMC has a major challenge integrating all the companies it acquired in 2003. Next year will be a key year in terms of this integration process.

In addition, all eyes will be focused on its Storage Router, expected to ship in the first half of 2005, which goes up against IBM's SAN Volume Controller software and HDS TagmaStore virtualization. Finally, the next Symmetrix is due mid- to late 2005, and it has a huge leap to make to top the recent performance enhancements IBM and HDS have made to their core hardware platforms.

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