EMC World 2016 attendees and others following the conference next week will watch closely for clues about what the storage giant will look like after it becomes part of Dell later this year.
Dell's proposed $67 billion acquisition of EMC has cast a shadow over both companies since the deal was announced last October. There have been large obstacles to closing the deal -- and some remain. Dell has yet to line up all of the $57 billion in financing it needs to complete the acquisition, EMC shareholders have yet to ratify it and China's regulatory approval is still pending. Michael Dell and EMC executives have emphasized their optimism for clearing those hurdles at all of their public appearances, and that will almost certainly continue next week at EMC World 2016 in Las Vegas.
Post-merger CEO Michael Dell and outgoing EMC CEO Joe Tucci will give keynotes to try and convince all in attendance that the merger will be a good deal for them. EMC will proceed with its storage plans, focusing on storage transitions from spinning disk to flash, on premises to cloud and disparate systems to converged architectures.
Dell and EMC executives said the merger is on schedule to close by October 2016, creating what Tucci called "a powerhouse in the IT industry, with approximately $80 billion in revenues."
Tucci's role after the merger has not been revealed, but other top EMC executives will stay on in leadership roles after the merger. David Goulden will serve as president of the enterprise systems group, comprising mainly storage and server, after the merger; Jeremy Burton will be chief marketing officer; Bill Scannell will be president of enterprise sales; and Howard Elias will be president of global services.
That may sooth some nervous EMC customers who want assurances their current products will survive the cut after the merger. But EMC and Dell have a fair amount of storage product overlap, and products will have to go.
EMC World 2016 will include the usual flood of product releases, including a new all-flash midrange system. EMC will also bang the drums for its recent releases, such as the VMAX All-Flash, DSSD D5, VxRail and virtual Data Domain. But it will hardly be business as usual. Whether they are at the show or not, large EMC customers want to know what the merger will mean to their storage investments.
"I wouldn't say I'm nervous about it, but I'm cautious," said David Burman, corporate vice president of technology at New York Life Insurance Co. "The biggest challenge EMC will face is retaining key people as part of this merger. Internal people are going to get freaked out, and if they lose some key people, it can be a problem."
Burman, a former EMC employee, said there are several positive signs.
"Seeing Michael Dell using his own money and seeing enterprise sales going to Hopkinton, [Mass.] give me the a warm and fuzzy feeling," he said.
But Harvey Guindi, CIO at Health Network Laboratories (HNL), based in Allentown, Pa., said the pending merger has him "very much" nervous. "[At HNL], we say Dell is where technology goes to die, and nothing has been innovative or reliable from them," said Guindi, whose shop switched from Dell Compellent to EMC XtremIO and VNX storage, and uses EMC VPLEX for disaster recovery.
"I did have a couple of conversations with EMC," Guindi said. "They promised me we shouldn't see anything different. The big test will be over the next year and a half, because we bought everything upfront, with a three-year support maintenance, and we're about halfway into that now. When that support maintenance is up, we will be at a decision point. Either we continue with EMC and upgrade to the next generation, or go in a different direction. I'd hate for them to do something different with XtremIO, but we always have plans B, C and D."
Flash is primary focus
XtremIO should be safe, because EMC executives said flash will dominate primary storage and they want to lead that trend. They promise even more flash on the way.
"We reached a point where it can cost less to store data entirely on flash, rather than performance hard drives," Goulden said last week. "And we'll continue to strengthen our all-flash portfolio with the launch of a new flash-optimized midtier storage family."
That would be a new VNX, or a platform that replaces the VNX. Goulden referred to the new system as "the start of a new cycle for where the traditional VNX plays." It will be launched at EMC World 2016.
Hybrid cloud a key conversation point
"You can't have a conversation with an infrastructure or CIO-type without getting into a cloud conversation," EMC's Burton said in an interview with SearchStorage earlier this year. "If you haven't got a strategy for hybrid, you probably got it wrong."
In past years, EMC pushed its federation approach to hybrid cloud, which mixed storage from EMC with virtualization from VMware and cloud technology from its Pivotal subsidiary. VMware will definitely be part of the new deal, and Pivotal is expected to make the cut, but it will be worth watching what cloud technologies EMC highlights at EMC World 2016.
Hyper-converged already pushing EMC, Dell closer
Hyper-converged is another area seen as key to modern data centers. Here, Dell and EMC have already partnered heavily while waiting for their merger to close. Dell in April revealed new Ready Node hyper-converged systems running VMware's Virtual SAN (VSAN) hyper-converged software. Dell will also resell VxRail Appliances with VSAN and VxRack Systems that incorporate EMC's ScaleIO hyper-converged software. Dell also has an OEM deal with Nutanix, a hyper-converged competitor of EMC and VMware. Dell's Nutanix relationship could lead to some interesting product decisions for Dell after the merger.
What won't make the cut?
Dell has already sold off its services business to NTT Data for $3 billion to help finance the EMC deal, and more properties are expected to go. Many expect Dell's Quest Software and SonicWall security groups will also be sold off. On the EMC side, the Documentum document management platform has struggled as part of the storage giant and is the most obvious expendable piece. Customers at EMC World 2016 will no doubt have their antennae up for what gets talked about most, and what products don't get talked about at all.
How EMC-owned VMware will be affected post-Dell merger
Dell and EMC customers reflect on what the acquisition means for them
VMware continues to evolve in the wake of Dell-EMC