Former rival brings new perspectives to EMC

Mark Lewis, EMC Corp.'s new CTO and executive vice president of new ventures, hasn't had to spend a lot of time familiarizing himself with the company. After all, over the past 18 years he's been in leadership roles at the storage businesses of Digital Equipment Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and most recently Hewlett-Packard Co., duking it out with EMC on a regular basis. He spoke last week with Deni Connor and Bob Brown about his change of scenery and EMC's aggressive storage software and management push.

Q: How's it different working at EMC than at HP/Compaq?I was EMC's biggest nemesis in the midrange space when I ran Compaq's storage group, so a lot of people ask that question. The obvious answer is EMC became Compaq's biggest rival because they were good at what they did. It's only logical that I go to work for a company I have a lot of respect for. EMC is much closer to the strategic vision of storage that I have than any other company.

People see EMC as a hardware-centric company. The funny thing is EMC is the most focused on playing in and winning in the software space. EMC had a completely different strategy three years ago. They had Symmetrix only, had not bought Clariion and had not invested in software. Sometimes perception and brand image tend to lag behind. Companies get credit for things they stopped doing a long time ago and don't get credit for things they are doing today.

Q: When you say EMC is winning in software, what do you mean?If you look at revenue tracked by Gartner Inc., the largest storage software vendor is EMC - it's larger than Veritas Software Corp. In the storage resource management and volume and file management categories, EMC is No. 1. We're not a major player in the back-up category today. Software is in excess of a billion-dollar business for us. [Editor's note: Veritas is No. 1 according to Gartner when array-based software is excluded.]You talk about how open EMC's software is, yet the company has only exchanged APIs with HP (and previously Compaq) under your WideSky program. HP, on the other hand, has exchanged APIs with EMC, IBM (Corp.) and Hitachi (Data Systems Corp.) Is EMC's software really so open?

We are working aggressively with all the major suppliers to get these API deals done. It is much easier when the two players don't feel threatened that the other company could out-execute them in software. We will continue to do API agreements where we can and reverse-engineer if we need to.

Q: How does WideSky sync up with Bluefin, the industry-standard, storage management effort?WideSky is middleware that will take standards-based APIs like Bluefin or unique APIs like Symmetrix, StorageWorks or IBM, and put them in a middleware layer that lets everything talk to anything. The hard thing with Bluefin is that it's going to be another four to six months to get the Bluefin [specification finalized] and another four to six months to get [Bluefin-compatible] products. With WideSky, we will try to support Bluefin for applications and arrays as much as we can. But there will be older arrays or newer functionality that if we don't have some middleware to take advantage of that, we either can't deliver it to the customer or we have to deliver nonstandard products.

Q: How will WideSky evolve?

We are going to extend WideSky more to application providers as well. There's more traction there. And we will extend it to products like Centera, our fixed-content storage array, so there will be more interoperability there.

Q: With EMC's Centera strategy, does that mean EMC is going to become more like companies such as BMC (Software Inc.) that have application-centric storage management offerings?We are going to become more application-oriented with our storage and through our partners. Object-oriented storage like we have in Centera is huge - you'll see a number of partner releases, you'll see products oriented around e-mail retention. So do these products end up competing more and more? Absolutely. I feel perfectly comfortable competing against Veritas in that space and having open systems software that manages all these devices - and oh, by the way, I have all these arrays that can go along with it.

Q: How do you expect EMC's revenue breakdown to shift as the company focuses more on software?By the end of 2004, we will be 50 percent hardware, 30 percent software and 20 percent services. Today, we are 59 percent hardware, 23 percent software and 18 percent services. It's a huge growth area, in which we will do acquisitions. I'm not going to say when, where or who, and I'm not going to say what particular market segment.

Q: Does EMC have a pool of money set aside for acquisitions?There is not, but when you have over $5 billion in liquid assets, you are obviously in a good cash position to make the business more efficient.

Q: What about the research and development budget?R&D is running about 14 percent of sales. From a storage perspective, EMC is spending more on R&D than literally all our next four or five competitors combined.

Q: How much of that is going to software?We don't specifically give out those numbers. But you can assume that an enhanced percentage is going to software.

Q: Is it safe to assume the developments and acquisitions EMC is making in the area of storage management all would feed into your AutoIS strategy for automating the storage process?Absolutely. It's all about becoming more efficient at automating the storage. For software to have value, it has to do one of four things - it has to make it more efficient from a storage utilization point of view; it has to improve business efficiency and continuity so [customers] can do more with fewer people; it has to do automated provisioning and reporting to improve customers' ability to react to changes; and it has to be heterogeneous.

Q: Observers say the next version of Symmetrix better be as fast as offerings from IBM and Hitachi. Will it be?This is a conundrum, because the question is a little inaccurate. Most of our products today are way faster in real-world applications than IBM's and, in most cases, Hitachi's systems. There's a little more to buying a car than worrying about the top speeds, especially when the highways you drive on are 65 mph. Admittedly, there will be times where suppliers will stair-step one another, but these are transitory things. We will continue to use more industry-standard chips and components, because the road to uncompetitiveness is to have too much custom engineering.

Q: One competitor that hasn't come up yet is Network Appliance (Inc.), which is known for its file-based storage systems but on Oct. 1 is expected to announce block-oriented storage arrays. What do you think about the company coming into what is typically thought of as your ballpark?EMC has said all along that there are different types of storage for different applications. As [network-attached storage] has evolved, we've said it has a role. There's a role for file-based storage, block-based storage and fixed-content storage. Network Appliance said for years that network-attached storage is all you need. How they will now reverse what they told their customers for so long will be interesting.

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