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Symmetrix woes, competition could hurt EMC in 2004

EMC's path for 2004 is clear: Software, software and more software. But if the company doesn't address user complaints about migrating to its latest flagship storage systems, EMC may lose hardware customers to rivals like IBM.

EMC rocked the storage industry this year with three major acquisitions and the launch of its high-end storage array, Symmetrix DMX. But the moves have left users to face some lingering issues and according to analysts, if EMC doesn't shape up, it could lose customers.

"The customer base is not happy with the way EMC is [conducting] the transitions from older versions of Symmetrix to Symmetrix [DMX]," said John Webster, founder and senior partner with Data Mobility Group Inc., a Nashua, N.H market research firm.

A look back at EMC in 2003
EMC had a busy year on all fronts in 2003. Aside from the debut of a new line of Symmetrix storage arrays and the acquisitions of Legato Systems, VMware and Documentum, EMC made several moves in hardware, software and with its partners to shape a solid year in storage.

In September, EMC dropped its WideSky storage management platform in favor of the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), an open storage management standard. WideSky, a "universal translator" between storage arrays and management applications, is no longer being packaged as a middleware layer with the company's hardware and software products.

EMC's executive vice president of open software, Mark Lewis, said the company was "trying to make some definitive clarifications around EMC and what we're doing, and the status of SMI-S." Lewis said the SMI-S standard will serve as the common language or middleware layer between EMC's arrays and third-party management applications, EMC's management applications and 3rd patty arrays, and EMC's own management applications and EMC's arrays.

Not one to miss out on a hot issue, EMC took steps to position itself atop the mountain of regulatory compliance solutions. The company partnered with KVS Inc. to offer e-mail mailbox management and compliance supervision, and Iron Mountain Inc. to offer long-term e-mail archiving, indexing and third party services. EMS is providing long-term, compliant online storage media. EMC also tweaked its Centera content addressed storage system by offering the Centera Compliance Edition, which manages and stores fixed content, like document images, e-mail, X-rays and medical records.

When BMC Software Inc. decided to remove itself from the SAN management race, EMC was there to pick up the slack. EMC acquired the rights to BMC's Patrol Storage Manager software, and BMC agreed to resell EMC's ControlCenter family of products as its storage resource management offering.

Users have complained that the data migration path from older generations of Symmetrix to its latest model is a difficult process. "For example, Symmetrix four doesn't talk to Symmetrix [DMX]," said Webster.

EMC's failure to placate its Symmetrix customers might pose a problem for the company in 2004. It has publicly stated time and again during the past 18 months that its focus is on software and, to a lesser degree, services. It's a strategy evidenced by the acquisitions of Legato, Documentum and VMware . With its eyes trained on the software market and integrating a trio of software companies, EMC may lose favor with some of its long-time hardware customers.

"EMC users are going to have to bite the bullet one way or the other and they might as well look at another platform in the process," said Webster. This attitude is something that IBM has already begun to capitalize on.

EMC spokesperson and marketing manager for the Symmetrix product line Barry Burke said he is "befuddled" by the claim that there is a migration problem. Burke said there were migration issues with DMX when it was launched, but any issues have since been rectified. EMC released a maintenance pack last May to assist users in the migration process.

"It's a non-issue. We've been leading the data migration issues in storage since 1997," Burke said.

In response to IBM's campaign to convert EMC customer's to the Shark platform, Burke said IBM does have the technology to move the data, but there's more to it than that. "Technology rotates every three-to-five years. It's a fact of life. [Users] inevitably ask the question 'should I migrate to the next generation of my existing platform or rotate to something else?' What's much more important than the ability to actually move the data is the overhead of retooling and retraining. The data movement part is the easiest part of the migration."

EMC would not discuss its hardware plans for 2004 and beyond. "We typically don't talk about what we do in the future in the hardware space," Burke said. "We're definitely not standing still on the platform side while the software side is moving."

In recent weeks, IBM launched a storage migration program designed to entice EMC customers to replace their existing storage systems with its own gear. In preparation for this program, Big Blue has trained a team of more than 100 consultants to help transfer customers from EMC to IBM storage products using a new appliance called Piper. The Piper appliance acts as a non-disruptive data migration tool that moves data from EMC Symmetrix systems to IBM's Shark arrays.

Webster said IBM was the first competitor to publicly address the Symmetrix migration issue, but it won't be the last.

Despite IBM's attempts to exploit Symmetrix's shortcomings, some maintain that high-end arrays will continue to be EMC's bread and butter in 2004. EMC's strategy, according to Randy Kerns, senior partner with the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Evaluator Group Inc., is to exploit its acquisition of Documentum by providing integrated software products for customers. This will be a significant amount of work for EMC, but Kerns predicts a "stellar offering" when the integration is complete.

He also expects that EMC will continue to push the sales of Symmetrix DMX to capitalize on the momentum that the product gained in 2003, as well as continue to develop its reseller channels for the Clariion product line, NAS, and the storage resource management and storage network management software that they acquired. Kerns said EMC may add features like SANcopy to Symmetrix, and additional remote copy options might be added to Clariion as well.

There's a bumpy road ahead for EMC in 2004 and not everyone in the industry is convinced that EMC's software strategy is a slam dunk.

"I need to see them make a dent in the Veritas juggernaut before we can start to call them successful," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst with Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass. "The Legato integration will be tough. They have all the pieces, now we need to see if the generals can move the troops to the right battle."

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