Has EMC Embarked on an Open Source Strategy?

Posted on June 16, 2015 By Paul Rubens


Storage giant EMC stunned the IT community recently with the announcement that it plans to release an open source project based on its ViPR Controller software defined storage product.

The open source version of ViPR has been given the rather bizarre-looking name Project CoprHD (pronounced Copperhead) and will be available on GitHub. EMC will continue to sell ViPR Controller as a commercial offering.

The move is as perplexing as it is unexpected because for several years now EMC has been trying to reposition itself in customers' — and potential customers' — eyes as a software company rather than a hardware vendor. The company's reason for doing that is related to the general movement in the enterprise and cloud storage markets away from expensive proprietary hardware arrays toward commodity storage hardware controlled by separate storage software (and, to a lesser extent, toward converged infrastructure too.)

So if software is the "crown jewels" of a modern storage business, why has EMC decided to open source code to its ViPR Controller software?

The answer, according to Suresh Sathyamurthy, senior director of product ,marketing for EMC's Emerging Technologies Division, is that open sourcing ViPR Controller will allow the software to support more hardware from more vendors. "ViPR Controller has always been vendor neutral, and by open sourcing it we can expand the scale of the project," he says. "This is EMC's recognition that customers have heterogeneous storage environments, and by scaling it to more hardware the value of the product to customers increases."

That's the official marketing line, but the truth is that companies don't give away their products just to make them more valuable to customers. There's clearly a reason why EMC believes it's in its own best interest to open source ViPR, and Sathyamurthy goes on to explain what this might be.

Project CoprHD makes ViPR more valuable to EMC, he says. That's because as CoprHD is developed, new features and hardware support will also make their way back into the commercial ViPR Controller software. The commercial product will also benefit from the availability of EMC support and professional services, as well as an EMC Solution Pack which connects ViPR Controller to ViPR SRM storage resource management software.

Sathyamurthy believes EMC will be the biggest contributor to the CoprHD project, but also expects three other types of contributors to add code to the project:

  • Other storage vendors who know their customers use ViPR, and who are introducing new products;
  • Large partners like Intel;
  • Storage service providers who want to build services on top of CoprHD;

This free open source offering and commercial product offering is, says Sathyamurthy, "very analogous" to the situation with the free Fedora Linux operating system and the commercial Red Hat Enterprise Linux product, which is based on tried-and-tested versions of Fedora, but offered on a subscription basis along with support, security patches and other services.

Analogous or not, one questions remains. Why has EMC chosen to make ViPR Controller open source but not all — or indeed any — of its other software? (It has announced that it is making its ScaleIO server SAN product freely available for non-production use, but that's not the same thing as making the code open source.)

Mark Peters, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, believes there is more to this than Sathyamurthy's declaration that open sourcing ViPR benefits customers and EMC itself. He says that it has to be looked at in the context of a storage giant that is very effective at stopping change in order to stay relevant.

"I am not sure that I believe that EMC is open sourcing ViPR because its customers are asking for it," he says. "I think that EMC hasn't had the uptake for ViPR that they would have liked. Software is the crown jewels, but there is also a turf war going on. Software equals money if your software is the chosen way of doing something, so really open sourcing ViPR is a way of getting people to use it — it's a land grab."

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