This post is part of the blog series related to Storage Field Day 13 and the Pure Storage Accelerate conferences. Find out the entire SFD13 content, presentations, articles, presenting companies and delegates here.
This primer article for Storage Field Day 13 will cover Dell EMC Technologies. Because we do not have a clear idea yet of what will be the agenda of our presentations, and because Dell EMC’s portfolio is way too large to be covered properly in a primer, you may find this article to be of subpar quality compared to what I usually write.
Dell EMC is the succeeding entity of Dell and EMC post-merger and a major actor in the data center & storage industries. It’s a company with a long & rich history and an equally rich line of products. The history below is a very short one, for it’s indeed a passionating topic you should research yourself.
Dell was founded after Michael Dell’s activity of assembling PC parts in his room as a student, a venture he would continue by founding PCS Limited, which he then incorporated as Dell. In the span of 20+ years, Dell became a major seller of x86 hardware (servers & consumer grade alike), the company became publicly traded and in 2004 Michael Dell stepped away but returned as a CEO in 2007. Backed by private investors, Michael Dell settled to de-list the company from stock exchanges through the purchase of Dell stock and the ultimate transformation of Dell into a private company. Because of that, it’s very hard to get figures about Dell’s profitability, expenses etc, you will not find any SEC filings that can help decrypt the company’s health.
EMC used to be also a publicly traded company and was probably the storage market leader for years. A notorious asset in EMC’s portfolio was VMware, a company that was publicly traded and independent, but of which EMC owned around 80% of its stock if my memory is correct. EMC also owned Pivotal, their PaaS branch (co-operated with VMware) as well as VCE, a joint venture launched with Cisco (who has retired since) with investments from VMware as well as Intel. VCE’s goal was to sell converged appliances (performance validated configurations, built and configured by EMC at their manufacturing plants and delivered “ready to use” to customers) – an innovation at the time, which was then superseded by the hyper-converged trend.
In 2015, the news came as a shockwave that Dell would purchase EMC for 67 billion USD in a cash and stock exchange deal. The process was long, and not exempt of bumps (if I recall well, the stock of either EMC or VMware bumped, causing the acquisition price to be higher than expected). A lot of interrogation existed at the time, but we have to salute the persistence of the involved teams as the merger turned out to be a success. As a result of the merger, EMC, now branded Dell EMC Technologies, ceased to be a listed stock and became a privately-owned company.
Product Lines vs Highlights
Going through the product line of Dell EMC would equal to writing a trilogy and dividing it into multiple books and chapters. Let’s avoid this here but let’s just explain the overlaps and introduce very briefly.
Dell used to have their own line of arrays, mainly from purchase Equallogic and Compellent: EqualLogic (iSCSI-based), Compellent (iSCSI/FC), PowerVault (oriented on capacity) and finally the direct-attach MD series. In the field, I never looked at Dell as a serious contender except in projects where low pricing would be the ultimate decision factor. Take in consideration that my past experiences in pre-sales come from a country (Czech Republic) where IT environments are relatively small and where an overwhelming majority of companies are owned by foreign capital, meaning that local teams have often limited initiative and decisional power. When a customer was a Dell shop, you could just wave goodbye.
EMC on the other hand has its VMAX line (enterprise-class SAN), VNX (general purpose SAN, but with a wide array of configuration/capabilities ranging from entry level SMB to enterprise-capable on the highest models) and VNXe (an unexpensive entry-level file/block storage array). They recently introduced Unity as a replacement for VNX. EMC also have Isilon, which is a massively scalable NAS platform, they have ScaleIO as a software-defined storage platform, ViPR (which seems to be related to ScaleIO, but can also be reminiscent of Primary Data as a kind of “storage tiering/abstraction platform”) and XtremIO. And probably more. I don’t follow them much, so pardon me! Oh, did we talk about VCE, VxRails, VxBlocks and on? Oops, what about DataDomain, VPLEX, Documentum, etc. etc…
No matter what the successes or drawbacks have been, you can see that EMC is a prolific storage manufacturer with a lot of intellectual property, and if someone wanted to write a book about their history, it would surely accompany you for the entire duration of a long winter season.
In terms of overlaps, my vision of it is that there is no single storage product that Dell has developed that hasn’t an equivalent in EMC’s product line. Without offense to the Dell folks working in storage, I’m inclined to think that EMC, even if they are a major contender, a typical corporation and may seem boring, have an undisputed position in the industry as a storage leader. Dell, on the other hand, needed its line to complement sales of x86 servers while it was competing with other hardware vendors. Its line wasn’t bad just like IBM’s storage line wasn’t bad, but in my own opinion it was no match for HPE or EMC.
A jewel in Dell EMC’s product line is (paradoxally) VMware VSAN, which doesn’t exactly puts it as a Dell EMC product, but kinda like, especially given the fact that VxRail appliances are sold through Dell EMC’s VCE subsidiary. It’s a product which is easily consumable, acclaimed by the data center community from a technical perspective, a leader on the hyper-converged market and still earning new customers. Because VMware leads the effort here, and it’s formally an independently traded company, I don’t expect to hear much about VSAN (unless we get a general product update in the context of VCE).
I’m looking to hear hopefully about XtremIO, which platform was recently upgraded (now called XtremIO X2). There is a video here but hopefully we will get an update and in-depth session on this.
Dell EMC is a giant if not the leader in the storage industry, it’s a company that sells across almost all verticals and segments, from SMB up to large enterprises. The only areas where they might not be present are niche markets. Rather than saying where they are, we can look at where they are not present. The discontinuation of their DSSD Tier 0 storage array has left empty room for Excelero, E8, Axellio and similar solutions, but it might have been a deliberate decision to focus on markets where profits can be maximised.
Let’s be honest: I was never a fan of EMC. Not that their products aren’t technically good: for most of what I’ve been in touch with, it’s been finely working hardware on par in quality with whatever else you can purchase from the competitors.
My issues with them were never technical but personal. While EMC technical people were always OK, experiences with sales people (especially on the behavioral side) were much worse, especially when I was working for a channel partner. Beyond the financial aspects and market implications of this unprecedented merger, I see a great opportunity for EMC to fix their sales culture and get some leadership from Dell on that point. The last news I was reading on CRN show that Dell is definitely on the right path to put and end to EMC’s sales force practices which gave favor to salespeople friends over individuals who worked hard with customers to bring business.
Getting away from personal preferences and back to the technology, Dell EMC has indeed some worthwhile assets but also a large and overlapping line of products that needs to be looked at and eventually be adjusted, or else incur the risk of not offering enough clarity to its customers.
I believe Dell EMC have great technology and are potentially working on great innovations as well. A problem they may have to face is what I heard someone say once (transliteration/amends by me): “in the data center world, we tend to root for the small startups and the underdogs when they compete against large established vendors, which may have begun as startups too”.
It’s not by lack of technical skills or engineering excellence, but merely because smaller companies are more agile and innovation is not halted by departmental barriers, management layers, competing internal R&D/products and corporate strategies. For this, I believe it’s an asset that the company is now under Michael Dell’s umbrella. While former’s and current leadership did great in growing EMC revenue over the years (or containing losses during hard times), it had lacked a charismatic leader that is well known and well perceived in the industry. That issue is now fixed for Dell EMC, and while communication should no longer be an issue, it now needs to simplify its line of offerings.
This disclosure is written specifically for the Storage Field Day 13 and Pure Storage Accelerate events. I was invited to the Pure Storage Accelerate and Storage Field Day 13 events by Gestalt IT & Pure Storage. Gestalt IT & Pure Storage covered travel expenses to the event, accommodation and food were also covered for the entire event duration. Transportation from home to PRG airport and back, transportation from SFO airport to the hotel as well as food and accommodation costs (on 10-Jun-17) were covered by me.
I did not receive any compensation for the participation in this event, for which I took unpaid time off to be able to attend (as it is the case with any events I participate to). I am not obliged to blog or produce any kind of content. Any tweets, blog articles or any other form of content I have produced or may produce in the future related to this event is the exclusive product of my interest in technology and my will to share information with my peers. Readers might also want to know that at the time of writing I owned two (2) shares of Pure Storage (PSTG.K).
In line with the concept of freedom of thought/critical thinking I commit to share only my own point of view and analysis about any products, technologies, strategies & concepts I was introduced to.