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Dell-EMC merger leaves IT pros hopeful and concerned

As IT pros try to wrap their arms around the $67 billion Dell-EMC merger, some say it could spur change in purchasing plans; others predict little impact.

Dell's estimated $67 billion acquisition of EMC left many IT professionals with a mix of hopes and concerns about the disrupted storage landscape they face following the deal.

Some users scratched their heads over the Dell-EMC merger, while consolidation-minded IT managers said they like the idea of purchasing a wide range of enterprise products through a single vendor.

"I am still reeling from the information. I am not sure what to think at the moment. I just hope the reasons are not purely financial, and there can be mutual improvements between Dell and EMC," e-mailed Ed Czerwin, a senior systems engineer at a large Switzerland-based medical technology company that is a customer of both vendors.

Czerwin noted his concern, as with most mergers and acquisitions, "that chaos will be injected into the normal day-to-day support and sale of products from both sides, and it will either lower the quality of support provided or cause purchases to have long ship times, with more confusion, as new parties are getting involved and ramped up."

Wilbour Craddock, vice president of information technology at Canadian health care service provider eHealth Saskatchewan, sees a potential risk of a lack of focus or innovation with tech company mergers. But, he envisions the potential for product integration with Dell, EMC and VMware and is intrigued by the fact that Dell "remains a private organization immune to the influence of stockholders on strategic direction or investment."

Craddock foresees potential benefits from "having a single, integrated vendor across virtualization, storage and compute. This brings the hype of a Nutanix to the enterprise scale and complexity that an organization like ours has," Craddock said.

EHealth Saskatchewan currently uses EMC storage, VMware virtualization and Cisco UCS servers and networking, but its only Dell technology is Wyse thin clients. Craddock said he might look into Dell compute products as a result of the merger.

However, he said he is concerned that Dell may spin off VMware to finance the expensive acquisition.

"Part of the draw for our organization is the close products and services relationship of an integrated organization like EMC and the federation provided," he said. "If VMware is a casualty of this merger, that may greatly impact our direction and relationship with EMC, as we need to determine if the storage layer or the virtualization layer is the key to our long-term data center services direction."

Users say Dell-EMC deal fills gaps

John-Paul Robinson, a software architect for research computing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), said the "potential for a fully integrated vertical stack" under Dell's control would likely have the greatest impact on enterprise users.

"But anything that cleans up the storage market a little bit is good for research," he said.

UAB's research arm stores about 500 TB of data across three tiers, using Dell servers for backup and archive, JBOD-equipped Dell

If VMware is a casualty of this merger, that may greatly impact our direction and relationship with EMC.
Wilbour CraddockVP of IT, eHealth Saskatchewan

servers and Hitachi SAN storage for near-line file-based storage, and DataDirect Networks hardware with the Lustre file system at the high end for scratch space.

"What I mean by 'clean up' is that it starts to fill in the gaps between what is traditionally considered low end and what might be considered the EMC market of high-end storage," Robinson said. "There's a space in between that we currently kind of fill ourselves with software. But if that gap can start to be filled in by an integrated platform from a vendor like Dell, then that's potentially beneficial to the research community."

The Houston-based Kelsey-Seybold Clinic is an IBM shop for storage and servers and uses only VMware virtualization technology and Dell's management and monitoring software, PCs, laptops and thin client devices. But, Martin Littmann, chief technology and information security officer at the Kelsey-Seybold, said the merger is "fantastic for Dell" and would make him "more strongly oriented towards considering Dell" for future storage purchases.

"A big part of that is Dell's got a great reputation for support. I would assume they'll translate that reputation for support into all of their acquisitions," Littmann said. "And the one thing that was lacking from an EMC standpoint in my mind is there weren't a bunch of heavy partners. I think you'll see partners clamoring to represent EMC storage as being part of a Dell solution."

Littmann said he can foresee some people making a decision to be an "all-Dell shop" for the same reasons that Kelsey-Seybold went with an all-IBM approach for the possibility of "one throat to choke." He said that strategy has "fallen apart mostly because IBM has divested themselves of various pieces of technology."

Littmann said there's a chance Kelsey-Seybold will move back to Dell servers now that IBM has sold off its servers business to Lenovo. He also considers EMC a contender to replace the NetApp NAS that IBM formerly branded and sold.

"Let's see how well Dell consumes this elephant," Littmann said. "I was at Compaq when Compaq acquired DEC, and I saw that as the beginning of the end of Compaq. The whole process of acquiring Digital was so consuming. Then HP's consumption of Compaq subsequently led to a significant deterioration at HP."

Some see Dell and EMC better as separate entities

The Dell-EMC merger had the opposite effect on Dean Flanders, head of informatics at Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical

I know EMC sells good gear, but either you love EMC and you're loyal to your deathbed, or you hate their guts.
Dean Flandershead of informatics, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research

Research in Basel, Switzerland. He said he had considered buying Dell virtual storage, but he will now re-evaluate.

"I assume Dell will become more like EMC, which is a bad thing for Dell. So I assume I am even less likely to buy from either," Flanders said.

Flanders cited an example of a storage purchase in which he had a requirement for 1.5 PB useable. He said only after asking about backups did he learn that EMC's Atmos proposal would cover only 750 TB useable because the other 750 TB would need to be reserved for replication. He said other vendors offered "honest" assessments.

"I just don't trust EMC. I've always trusted Dell," Flanders said. "I know EMC sells good gear, but either you love EMC and you're loyal to your deathbed, or you hate their guts. And there are very few people in the middle."

Flanders said Dell represents "value for the money," while EMC is "gold-plated and super expensive" and "value for covering your butt and make your life easy, buy this stuff even though it doesn't perform that great." He said the Dell-EMC merger "makes no sense, except to enrich the guys that run EMC."

Nick Gerasimatos, director of cloud service and engineering at Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO), sees the merger as a way for Dell to "finally get enterprise-grade storage" because "Compellent was not really enterprise-ready." He also said the deal is also good for VMware to "hopefully allow them to spin and eliminate the influence of EMC and increase their innovation."

But Gerasimatos doesn't see the merger having an impact on FICO's purchasing plans. He said the company is shifting to OpenStack, Ceph software-defined storage and public cloud options to try to move away from VMware Enterprise, vCloud Director and EMC's VMAX, VNX and Avamar within two to three years. He said the main impediment is waiting for hardware depreciation.

"The ROI is not there" with VMware/EMC products, Gerasimatos wrote in an e-mail. He added that FICO staff prefers OpenStack options because they can participate in the software evolution and modify source code to fit their specific needs. "Also, EMC and VMware have a very poor OpenStack story that is less than impressive," he added.

FICO uses SolidFire all-flash arrays for workloads that need high performance or replication and Cisco's UCS as its hardware standard. Only legacy environments use EMC and NetApp, according to Gerasimatos. 

Senior news director Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

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