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Dell and EMC: Five more years

Dell leans on EMC for support in the face of an SEC investigation and possible delisting from NASDAQ.

NEW YORK -- Dell Inc., facing a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation, has delayed filing its Form 10-Q and faces possible delisting on the NASDAQ. But on the bright side, its partnership with EMC Corp. is going great.

The Round Rock, Texas, computer systems manufacturer announced at its Technology Day yesterday in New York City that it had inked a five-year extension of its alliance with EMC through 2011.

The partnership, which will already be five years old next month, has netted the two companies 34,000 systems and about 10,000 joint customers, said Kevin Rollins, Dell president. While largely focused on selling cobranded systems Clariion AX and CX disk arrays, Dell has also recently started selling EMC replication and management software, as well as virtualization software from EMC subsidiary VMware Inc.

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In a surprise appearance on stage, EMC chairman Joe Tucci gushed that the partnership was "one of the most successful partnerships in the IT industry." As proof point, Tucci cited market share numbers for the two companies then and now. In 2001, IDC estimated that Dell and EMC together had about 8% of the overall disk market; today, they have 29%. Over the next five years, Tucci said, his goal is "to gain another 21 points of share."

The contract itself hasn't changed much since it was originally drafted in 2001, according to Praveen Asthana, Dell director of enterprise storage. "From an operational perspective, it's the same," he said. "The contract calls for us to review our relationship on an annual evergreen basis," and is automatically renewed "unless one of us decides we don't want it to be."

Dell will continue to have unfettered access to the full EMC product portfolio, not just the Clariion line. Asthana revealed that the company had resold a few Centera systems, but that EMC's network attached storage (NAS) systems weren't a fit for most Dell shops. "Most of our customers are Windows and Linux shops -- not Unix," he said. "It's the high-end Unix market that is looking for high-end NAS." For NAS, Dell bundles Microsoft Windows Storage Server with its own PowerEdge servers.

Nor has Dell been tempted to look elsewhere for disk subsystems. "In the Fibre Channel (FC) disk space, the EMC relationship is satisfying our customers' needs," Asthana said.

The same can't be said for EMC, which last fall signed an agreement with Intel Corp. to sell storage to [an even lower end market]. At the time, pundits suggested that the Dell-EMC partnership had hit the rocks, but "hopefully today's announcement will lay those rumors to rest," Asthana said.

In Dell's immediate future, Asthana, sees a lot of iSCSI. Already, sales of the AX150 are "predominantly" iSCSI rather than FC, he said, and he expects "much more pickup next year." Currently, Dell does not sell iSCSI versions of the CX line, but he indicated that that is something the company is considering.

That's a significant shift from years prior. "As you know, iSCSI has always been the technology of tomorrow, and tomorrow just hasn't come yet," Asthana said. Currently, Dell is selling substantial amounts of the AX150 not just to the entry-level market, but to large corporate users that are purchasing it for branch office deployments.

On the storage software side, Ashtana said Dell customers had expressed a strong interest in continuous data protection (CDP) offerings from Dell partners Symantec Corp. and CommVault Systems Inc.

Further on down the road, Asthana said Dell is looking at how to provide storage to home users. With the advent of digital photography, "the birth of a child can exhaust your entire hard drive," he said.

There are two models for how to provide storage to home users. On the one hand, Dell could work with a partner like EMC to develop very easy-to-use external storage devices. The "competing vision" is hosted storage, like what Google offers. "We're giving exploratory looks to both," Asthana said.

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