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EMC plots appliance strategy

EMC launches second appliance for application discovery and says many more are on the way.

BOSTON -- EMC Corp. executives sketched out plans Tuesday to introduce a series of appliances that will snap into the network and perform a single function, which will simplify data management, the company claims.

The first appliance comes from the company's acquisition of Rainfinity Inc. and provides file virtualization. The second, announced at the EMC World show this week, is for application discovery. Dubbed Storage Insight Application Discovery Manager, it's a 1U box that plugs into the network and passively listens to all traffic crossing the wire. It can see which host an application is running on, who is talking to those applications and the volume of traffic between hosts.

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"The number one issue when you talk to CIOs [chief information officer] is complexity," said Joe Tucci, CEO of EMC. "Environments are too sensitive to change. You have to manage change control, then test and test and test before they put anything even close to production. None of that testing helps the company move forward."

He added: "We're looking at appliances that can be easily tested and installed without disrupting something else. We're still going to sell more enterprise solutions, but there will be more of a move to appliances to try and cut through complexity issues CIOs are wrestling with."

These appliances will automatically update as soon as anything changes on the network and will relieve storage administrators of the headache of managing agents on every server, the company said.

"Another function might be a Documentum service," said Mark Lewis, executive vice president and chief development officer at EMC. "You'll be able to plug in our single stack and it'll instantly do what it says without you having to worry about the underlying operating system or all those other moving pieces … you'll buy the application service and the security, and all the policies around it will be in the stack."

He added, "You'll see us do lots more appliances at EMC."

Analysts say the "soft appliance" model hinges on how well the box adjusts to changes on the network and how easy it is to manage. "If you end up with 10 appliances in addition to everything else, how simple is that?" noted Doug Laney, analyst with Evalubase Research.

Application service providers were another attempt by the industry to reduce the complexity of deploying unwieldy enterprise applications. In this model, software is delivered over the Internet and users pay for service as they need it. The problem with this approach was inadequate security and compliance around the services.

However, this model is making a comeback, and EMC is in on the game. Talk of backup-as-a-service came up several times during presentations at EMC World. "This is a couple of years out," noted a company spokesman.

Moreover, as far as on-demand services or utility computing goes, Tucci said "right now there's not a lot happening that's significant, it's a "financial arrangement more than anything else today."

Tucci surprised the audience and his public relations team on one topic. "A short walk from here, I can show you some very interesting home and desktop prototypes we've built," he said. "The question is, 'How do you take it to market?' EMC is a B2B [business-to-business] company, there's not a lot of B2C [business-to-consumer] expertise on my top team, including me."

He said that if the company did decide to enter the consumer market, it would take a similar approach to Cisco Systems Inc. when it bought Linksys. "Cisco could have built that home router but bought Linksys because they got people who understood the consumer market and got a channel." He said the alternative would be to build the product, and then let consumer companies sell it and pay EMC a royalty. That's the most likely way, "the Intel Inside approach," he said.

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