EMC bets on storage virtualization

Storage vendor EMC places its bets on a storage management strategy that integrates and automates resources - the result of a sizable investment poured into research and development.

Steve Faris, vice president of marketing at EMC Asia Pacific, is upbeat about the future of EMC and confident of its ability to take the lead in the Enterprise storage market, because the storage vendor is focusing on storage virtualization as the next wave to fuel growth.

He revealed this and other EMC plans to remain storage leader, at EMC Corporation’s "Next, next vision" symposium for storage held recently at Langkawi, Malaysia recently.

These comments followed the financial results of the first half of 2001 - US$542 million, of which the Asia Pacific region contributed 13%.

Darryl McKinnon, regional program manager for EMC South Asia said that EMC was investing heavily in research and development (R&D) - spending some US$1 billion in total, with some US$700 million to be spent on developing software. A large proportion of this software expenditure will be on EMC’s storage virtualization software known as Automated Information Storage or Auto IS.

According to EMC, the basic concept of storage virtualization allows you to manage your storage environment through a GUI interface like your desktop computer environment - allowing you a virtual view of all the elements in your computer and peripherals that are linked your PC in an organized logical manner by name, type, file size etc. Virtualization can exist at every layer but it is not possible without interoperability, management and connectivity between the layers.

Auto IS is EMC’s vision of achieving storage virtualization. EMC, Faris said, believes that it will be the management of storage that will drive the storage market. This is the reason why they have invested in Auto IS, the component of the EMC Control Center (ECC), that EMC believes will be key in establishing EMC’s dominance of storage virtualization.

EMC believes that the ease that storage virtualization offers will be an important factor that will add to its popularity. According to Peter Kallviks, director product marketing for EMC Asia Pacific, EMC believes automation is the key, meaning the ability to automatically detects problems, determine the best solution and execute corrective actions. "All of this is possible today with Auto IS," he added.

Kallviks also mentioned that some 400 of the total 3000 engineers employed by EMC are working on realizing the full potential of Auto IS as a storage virtualization tool.

According to the Meta Group’s Kevin McIssac, program director for server infrastructure strategies, storage is a critical business infrastructure that must be developed to support rapidly changing business needs. By the Meta Groups estimates, storage will constitute 60-80% of upfront server costs by 2002/3. This growing market means that it is important for those competing in the storage market to understand and anticipate their customers’ needs.

A big part of these needs would be in making storage management easier. The cost of training qualified storage managers, McIssac felt, would increase over time, as would the cost of retaining them. In order to ease this problem, McIssac felt that many companies would hope to use existing in-house staff to manage storage requirements. This would make easily understood GUIs and interoperable components essential.

“At its core essence, virtualization should be about ensuring interoperability, ease of management and highest level of connectivity with all types of systems, platforms, OS, storage devices and servers,” added EMC's Kallviks.

According to Kallviks, in addition to spending on R&D, EMC was expanding worldwide with the opening of several training centers as well as customer service and support centers and development centers. Kallviks also added that US$2 billion was recently invested in its Interoperability Lab. The Singapore Training Center in Suntec City, Singapore, cost US$3 million to establish said Kallviks.

According to McKinnon, EMC is working hard to provide the best storage solutions to customers: “We only sell storage. If we don’t do this well, what else can we do?”

When asked about the evolution of Storage Service Providers, (SSPs) and the reason for their apparent unpopularity, Faris replied that he saw the evolution of SSPs as a natural extension of the value-added services that customers demand nowadays.

SSPs typically offer computer storage space and related management to organizations. Other services include periodic back-ups, archiving and data consolidation. Customers are charged for the amount of storage used and the type of storage management provided.

Part of the reason for their unpopularity, Faris said, was that all of the hype about SSPs fell greatly short of the initial results delivered. He said that many customers were disappointed by the inability of SSPs to deliver storage-on-demand at a reasonable price. Many potential users of SSPs also took between 12 –24 months evaluating an SSP before making a decision on whether to use such a service. This would present difficulties to SSPs who would face possible periods where cash flow was limited.

When queried about the possibility of EMC becoming a player in the SSP space, Faris said that while EMC was supportive of those who wished to become an SSP, there was little possibility of EMC becoming one itself. EMC was not in the business of competing with their customers, Faris said, and would remain as a backend provider.

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