IBM focuses on storage while EMC looks to enterprise management

A number of interesting trends are becoming increasingly apparent among some of the industry's major players. This week, a quick look at what two storage heavy-hitters, IBM and EMC, are up to.

It is clear that storage is playing an increasingly important role in IBM's corporate strategy. Within IBM, efforts are being made to:

* Tighten integration with storage management software from Tivoli, which IBM acquired in 1996.

* Develop high-performance technologies and functionality for next-generation high-end storage systems.

* Move forward with IBM's long-awaited virtualization initiative.

The first point is a continuation of the long effort to integrate the Tivoli development and sales teams more fully into the IBM corporate structure. This has been going on for a while now (and probably has taken too long), but seems now to have a lot of internal traction.

The second and third points are especially interesting when viewed as part of a corporate effort by IBM to build efficiencies into the development process. In both cases, IBM will work with Hitachi - in most regards, a clear competitor - to co-develop a common approach to virtualization (based on IBM technology) and to forge ahead with other advanced storage technologies that can be put in high-end devices such as IBM's Shark and HDS's Lightening. Note that the companies will be working together on specific technology initiatives, sharing both development expense and brainpower, and not (as I speculated in an earlier column) collaborating on a common box. Expect to see the results of this collaboration finding their way into next-generation high-end storage devices from both companies.

When the first fruits of this joint effort - improved technologies at reduced costs - will begin to appear is as yet unannounced, but it is bound to be an interesting exercise in coopetition that deserves watching. I guess I'll always have difficulty thinking of IBM in terms of being "lean and mean," but "focused and efficient" should work pretty well.

EMC, IBM's Massachusetts rival is also doing interesting things, but whereas IBM is sharpening its focus on storage, we find EMC is broadening its worldview to look beyond its traditional area of expertise.

Earlier this year it buddied up with its new best friend Dell to streamline some if its manufacturing operations and to help it access a number of markets it hadn't successfully worked with before. Now comes word of EMCLink.net, EMC's Web-based service for monitoring client sites over the 'Net.

This new service will have IT shops installing an EMC server on site to collect data so that EMC can remotely monitor (and someday, manage?) the performance, availability and capacity status for a variety of applications and databases running on a variety of operating systems.

EMC trend-watchers should see this as another step in EMC's long-range plan to go beyond being "just" a storage hardware vendor. It is now well on the way to being a leading storage software vendor as well, and is beginning to bring its guns to bear on the next target: managing not just storage, but the enterprise. This is likely to be a bellwether for things to come, so it's a safe bet that Veritas, BMC and Computer Associates will all take notice.

So, we see two major vendors making strategic decisions that will affect their futures for many quarters to come. IBM is placing additional emphasis on storage, and EMC is broadening its view.

Which approach will win out? A reasonable guess is that both will succeed. Now we'll have to see how the rest of the industry responds.

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