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Inside EMC's 10-year IT infrastructure transformation

EMC may be helping other businesses overhaul their IT infrastructure, but over the last decade the company has also been undergoing its own internal IT overhaul too.

EMC has been assisting companies worldwide through their IT infrastructure overhaul, having partnered with a myriad of industry players including VMware, RSA, VCE, and Pivotal to strengthen their position in being able to do that.

But just because it's a company helping others, it doesn't make EMC immune to market competition and changes.

In fact, EMC IT senior vice president Jon Peirce admitted to ZDNet that even though EMC may be a technology company, it too has been undergoing a similar transformation because it experiences the same challenges that its peers in the industry face, including control of costs, service quality, resiliency, agility, and security.

"EMC as a company has undergone several transformations over the course of its life as a technology company, and we certainly expect that continuous transformation is within our DNA," he said.

Peirce said his team has an obligation and responsibility to the rest of the company to be an IT service provider to allow the company to enter a competitive state, and be poised to innovate and capitalise on opportunities faster than competitors.

In fact, this year marks exactly 10 years since the company started overhauling its own infrastructure, which was rolled out in three stages: infrastructure first, followed by the operating model, and most recently the company's data and applications.

As a result, EMC has moved off its traditional infrastructure and built an enterprise hybrid cloud within its datacentres that consist of on-premise cloud capabilities.

Peirce revealed that given the company is part of a federation, EMC is able to leverage the solutions offered by the other vendors, such as VMware's vCloud Air that acts as an off-premise extension of the company's on-premise private cloud.

"We use that for workloads that make sense to run there. We are also a large customer of some SaaS companies that deliver their applications from their own cloud such as Salesforce and Service Now. So we are operating in a hybrid mode where we have some application services delivered through a provider's cloud, some from our own cloud through vCloud Air, and some through our on-premise private cloud," he said.

When asked whether Peirce would consider moving EMC's infrastructure completely in the cloud, he said that it will be something the company will look at later down the track when all of its legacy applications have been appropriated for the cloud.

"Not all of our applications, and only a small portion, especially the legacy ones, were not ever written for the cloud, so we are not making any more [cloud-related changes] for most of those applications, but that is a journey that will happen over time and to swap out those legacy applications with applications written for the cloud. We'll be in a position to do more to leverage the capabilities of the hybrid cloud," he said.

However, there have been recent speculations in the market that EMC's relationship with VMware might be on the rocks. Peirce reaffirmed that while the company's infrastructure has been built on VMware's vCloud Air, EMC would be well-positioned to handle any changes that may occur.

"I would say the federation makes it much simpler to both have an on-prem and off-prem capability that is very tightly integrated and very seamless. If we were working with different providers for on-prem private cloud and off-prem it would be complicated and less seamless," he said. "As a consumer of the federation it brings us a level of integration that helps us dramatically."

Peirce also revealed the transformation process wasn't entirely smooth sailing, with the biggest challenge being change management.

"The most challenging part where we made the most mishap was on all things associated with people. The culture change in what I called the 'change of muscle memory in IT' has been very difficult.

"People are motivated differently; some people are motivated by opportunities, others by fear, others a combination of the two, and change is something everybody agree needs to happen, but no one really wants to do it themselves. In the end the biggest challenges we've had has been associated with getting people thinking differently, behaving differently, and changing that muscle memory," he said.

From his point of view, Peirce said he made the mistake early on where he assumed a majority of the organisation understood the direction the company was taking, only to realise that only a certain percentage really did.

"One of the lessons learned as a leader of transformation is you're really an evangelist and a huge proportion of your job is to continuously drive home the message and find a different way of communicating the message to help everybody, or at least a critical mass of the organisation to be able to understand it enough and rally it and help you drive it forward," he said.

But unlike many organisations out there, which find it challenging to get the support from executives to make transformation happen, Peirce acknowledged it was an advantage to have an executive team that supported the transformation.

"We have a privilege in having an organisation and an executive in an organisation that understands IT very well, and that helps us from a communication standpoint but also puts a higher standard of expectation because there are executives who believe they could the CIO job, but overall edges of that sword force us to be better," he said.

He added that since overhauling the company's infrastructure, it has not only delivered "massive cost benefits, but better resiliency, less complexity, and greater speed".

"It's one of the rare cases where you're not forced to make a trade off between cost and quality; it all moves in the same direction," he said.

"The thing you have to wrap your head around to embrace that virtuous circle is that concept of standardisation, and sometimes it's difficult for organisations to fully buy into standardisation that ultimately deliver better benefits than custom one-off approaches. We're quite convinced by that case as we've approved that internally."