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EqualLogic users hope Dell will take cue from VMware

Dell is trying to cash in on server virtualization with its $1.4B buy, but users hope it will follow EMC's example with VMware by keeping EqualLogic a separate unit.

EqualLogic Inc. customers said Dell's $1.4 billion acquisition of the iSCSI SAN vendor caught them by surprise, and they hope Dell Inc. will not make fundamental changes to the EqualLogic product line.

With the deal set to close later this year or early in 2008, it's too early to know how it will impact EqualLogic, or how many of its employees, including senior management, will stay on at Dell. The initial indication from Dell is that EqualLogic's products will join the Dell PowerVault line of low-end iSCSI storage. How that integration will happen and what might change about EqualLogic's products is "something we're going to be working out over the next 60-to-75 days," according to Mike Arterbury, director of storage operations at Dell.

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Users are hoping no news is good news. "We're hoping the product won't change just because Dell bought it," said David Stevens, senior systems consultant for Carnegie-Mellon University computing services. "If anything, they should merge the PowerVault line into EqualLogic's products, not the other way around."

Users are hoping that research and development, and engineering support from EqualLogic stays the same. "From an engineering perspective, one of the things we like about EqualLogic is its ability to adapt and change, and develop things rapidly," said Alan Hunt, operations manager for Dickinson Wright PLLC, a Detroit-based law firm. "I'm hoping they keep that part of the company intact and separate so they can continue to evolve the product according to their roadmap."

Hunt said the EqualLogic SAN he's been running for three years "is really the core now of what I do. It's the only product I feel is absolutely critical to us, and everything else in our environment revolves around it." He said he has come to rely on features bundled into his EqualLogic SAN, such as replication for disaster recovery and snapshot backup.

"I want to know where the [product] support will come from now," said Dave Siles, chief security officer for the government of Kane County, Ill., adding that he'd prefer that aspect of EqualLogic remain intact, as well. "I think EqualLogic understands their product and the VMware ecosystem around it best."

Users were nervous in the face of the unknown and thrown by the surprise announcement because EqualLogic was on deck to go public. Some, however, could see the benefit of a large established company, such as Dell, backing EqualLogic's products.

"I'm excited," said Steve Meckling, network services administrator for Shiloh Industries Inc . "We're a Dell shop [for servers] anyway, and I'm anticipating we may get discounts and integration we haven't seen before."

Siles, also a Dell customer for servers, said he looked forward to easier procurement as well, and said it would prompt him to look at the vendor in a new light. "We've never bought any of Dell's storage products," he said. "This puts them on the map for me in storage."

Users were optimistic that Dell would handle the integration of EqualLogic in a way that preserves the iSCSI startup's intellectual property. "It's hard to believe that Dell didn't buy them as much for their brain share [in storage] as their market share," Siles said.

It's a more remote possibility, but users also said they had wondered about how the acquisition would affect EqualLogic's relationship with VMware, which is owned by Dell storage partner EMC Corp. Both Dell and EMC have insisted the acquisition will not affect their storage relationship, but insiders in the industry predict that this is the beginning of the end.

Still, Forrester Research analyst Andrew Reichman predicts that any fallout in the EMC/Dell partnership will unlikely affect the VMware-EqualLogic relationship. "It is a possibility that Dell/EMC falling apart might impact VMware and EqualLogic but not a big one," Reichman said in an email to "EMC has proven themselves to be very careful not to let any EMC politics get in the way of broad scale VMware adoption and improvement, and I would be surprised to see this be different."

Reichman also maintains that Dell is not likely to keep EqualLogic as a separate subsidiary. "They lose the architectural and manufacturing improvement benefits that way," he wrote. "I expect the Dell MD platform will merge with EqualLogic, taking the multiplexing architecture and advanced software management capabilities into the Dell stack. Dell is likely to add lower cost expansion options [to the product line], which I think is EqualLogic's main weakness now, as you have to add controllers when you add disk, and they have no JBOD expansion option today."

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