Dancing on the storage chessboard

The recent company acquisitions initiated by EMC remind me of the first moves in a chess games. Although everyone can clearly see each step, understanding their ultimate strategic objective is not always possible.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to predict that a new, different company will emerge from these acquisitions. The (old) EMC had the advantage over rivals such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun because of its narrower, storage-only focus. The company was exempt from distractions such as building servers, development platforms, enterprise applications, and OS.

The new EMC that I envision will take on more than traditional storage challenges. They'll invade adjacent fields and extend the range of management applications to documents, databases, and a powerful OS such as VMware.

With the ink still fresh on the acquisition papers and some of those deals not yet complete, EMC is not talking about new products or services offerings. However, we can always hypothesize, can’t we?

First of all, let’s discard the simplest scenario that has EMC building only sales and marketing synergies with the new partners. Although possible, this hypothesis has some flaws; the most important being that EMC could have reached the same goals with simple partnership agreements and without acquiring those companies.

Moreover, some statements from EMC suggest that those acquisitions will create synergies with partners’ products, and not only with their sales and marketing structure.

More likely is a second scenario, in which EMC and its new partners retrofit their products to achieve integrated behavior. EMC volunteered an example of the possible outcome of that integration with VMware products: a tight link between applications such as EMC's SRDF (Symmetrix Remote Data Facility) and VMWare’s VMotion would make possible the easy creation and maintenance of consistent remote replicas of not only the data, but now, too, the application server.

For customers, the obvious advantage of synchronized storage and servers replicas would be the ability to move a storage-focused server to a secondary location in the blink of an eye and reuse that original server for some other application.

In this scenario, an application becomes once again tightly knotted to its storage, with the added bonus that those results will probably be attained with little cost and effort because storage devices and apps servers will have unified management tools from the same vendor.

That (for now hypothetical) integration scenario translates into a terrific capability that customers can use, for example, in disaster recovery applications. The only flat note in that symphony is that, although very popular, VMware OSes are not necessarily present in every datacenter.

Which begs the question: will customers running native Linux, Unix, or Windows retrofit their servers with, say, the powerful VMware ESX Server to take advantage of integrated OS-storage management?

In my view, they could and should, unless of course, other OS vendors can offer similar integration. With that possibility in mind, the acquisition of VMWare, which didn't cost as much as EMC's Legato and Documentum's purchases, could become the one that carries more technological weight.

EMC’s latest move bears the promise to reunite systems and storage management under the same umbrella; will its opponents respond in kind? Is this a checkmate? Time will tell. Happy New Year.

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