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Dell World 2015: Storage users give thumbs-up to EMC deal

Storage customers at Dell World 2015 signaled thumbs-up to Dell's $67 billion deal to acquire EMC, expressed few worries about overlapping products as result of merger.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Dell's $67 billion deal to acquire EMC may have sent shock waves through its customer community a week ago, but by the time they left Dell World 2015 Thursday, plenty of storage users gave the deal a thumbs-up.

An informal poll of a dozen of Dell's Compellent and EqualLogic customers showed that few had concerns about overlapping products, price increases or other potential negative consequences of the pending acquisition. Most were simply interested to see how the merging of the technologies will play out.

Only one of the surveyed Dell storage users had a strong reaction to the acquisition. Rick Colen, senior director of IT infrastructure and security at New Century Health, a specialty care management firm based in Brea, California, needed only two words to sum up his initial reaction to the Dell-EMC news.

"Holy crap," Colen said.

Just two weeks ago, New Century Health spent approximately $200,000 on Dell's SC Series, the storage product line formerly known as Compellent. The company had also looked at NetApp and EMC storage before deciding to remain a Dell shop and move up from the vendor's lower-end EqualLogic PS arrays.

"Had we known that they were going to be buying EMC, we may have held off and waited to see what the EMC acquisition looked like," Colen said. He recalled thinking, "Is Dell really going to still put all the effort into Compellent now that they have EMC? Are they going to try and transition everything from Compellent into EMC?"

But those sentiments were atypical among the polled customers at Dell World 2015, and even Colen's initial fears started to ease after he heard Michael Dell speak at Dell World. Colen said he now thinks Dell won't make any major changes for three to four years, at which point his company will be ready to replace the Compellent gear.

"I'm comfortable with my decision," said Colen, lauding Dell's customer support. He said the Dell acquisition might have a positive effect on EMC and improve what he viewed as a declining level of customer service he experienced as an EMC customer in a previous job

"I can only see EMC going up at this point," said Colen.

Shawn Streett, vice president of IT managed hosting at Merkle, a performance marketing company in Columbia, Maryland, said he has no worries about EMC or Dell, post-merger. Merkle is a major customer of Dell servers and a petabyte-scale user of EMC's VMAX and Isilon storage arrays.

"If it was another partner besides Dell, that we weren't familiar with, then yeah, we may have a little bit of concern," Streett said. "But, for right now, we're very tight with Dell, and we have a good relationship with EMC. We view it as two friends coming together -- two known entities. It would be a different story if we didn't have a great relationship with one or the other."

Streett said he trusts Dell's technology vision, although he is also keenly interested to see how the product roadmap plays out should the EMC acquisition go through. 

"They're going to have to rationalize the product sets and determine, if there's an overlap, 'Which way do we go?'" Streett said. "I have faith that the leadership there is going to be making the right selection, and if a product line goes away, they're going to step up and have a better product line in place."

Through an open letter to storage customers posted on the company's Web site, Michael Dell pledged an ongoing commitment to the storage business and continued enhancements and support for all of the company's storage and enterprise offerings. He echoed the sentiments during his keynote at Dell World 2015.

If it was another partner besides Dell, that we weren't familiar with, then yeah, we may have a little bit of concern.
Shawn StreettVP of IT managed hosting at Merkle

"Every now and then, you'll get a piece of hardware that a manufacturer will completely abandon and kind of pull the rug out from underneath of you, but based on past performance of Dell and EMC, they've always stood behind their product until it reached the end of its lifecycle. And that's what matters," said Dale Steinhauser, an IT system support technician at Builders in Kearney, Nebraska. Builders stores approximately 4 TB of data in an EqualLogic array.

Tom Beohm, a systems architect at CD Baby in Portland, Oregon, also expressed cautious optimism about the Dell-EMC merger based on Dell's track record of slowly integrating features with existing products after its Compellent and EqualLogic acquisitions. CD Baby currently stores approximately 750 TB of data in SC Series storage.

"At least from a technology perspective in what we're doing, we don't really see any threats or any issues," Beohm said. He added that he's "not really worried" about any potential product overlap between Dell and EMC.

The Socorro Independent School District (SISD) in El Paso, Texas, currently stores approximately 80 TB on five EqualLogic arrays and 40 TB in Nimble Storage systems. Mike Andl, a systems administrator for the SISD, said he's not concerned if Dell should cancel a product line after the acquisition. He said the school district follows a standard procedure when buying technology, putting out a request for proposals that any vendor can bid on, and a committee ultimately makes the decision. Cost is generally a major factor.

"Whoever gives us a good offer and a good feature set that we want, then that's it. We're not married to Dell or anybody else," Andl said. "We are a school district, so we are using taxpayers' money. We have to be frugal."

Eric Cagle, Information Systems and Technology Administrator at United Cooperative Services in Cleburne, Texas, said the electric utility provider has been a Dell customer for 17 years but has used EqualLogic for only two years. He thinks the company could easily change to another storage platform if anything should happen to the PS Series product line. He said it's "really not a concern at this point," and as a VMware user, he is looking forward to the merger. 

"I think it's going to be a great move," Cagle said. "We're virtualizing almost all of our server infrastructure, and I think as we move forward, it's only going to be more virtualized. With the Dell hardware and VMware all combined, it's just going to be an improvement across the board."

Even if Dell should spin off VMware someday, as some have speculated, Cagle is not worried. "It'll still be a partnership there, and they'll be closely integrated, so I don't see a problem," he said.

On the flip side, Microsoft Hyper-V user, Mikko Peltoniemi wonders how Dell will support Microsoft's hypervisor when it becomes the primary owner of EMC's VMware. Peltoniemi is director of IT at Congers, New York-based Star Kay White, which makes dessert flavoring ingredients.

"So far, I've been told that that's not going to change," he said of Dell's close Microsoft relationship. "I can't really speculate on what's going to happen. I'll just have to really follow the situation and then take a course of action based on that."

The main concern for Peltoniemi at this point is pricing. Star Kay White stores about 4 TB of data on an EqualLogic array, with which Peltoniemi said the company has been happy.

"The margins are going to be tight, so the prices might be going up across the board for all the products," Peltoniemi said. "That's the indirect effect that I'm really worried about."

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