EMC at the crossroads: Wide-eyed over WideSky

Dave Simpson,
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EMC faces a challenge equaled only by its assault on IBM's hegemony in the mainframe storage market a long time ago. On the hardware front, the 800-pound gorilla faces renewed competition from old rivals such as Big Blue and Hitachi Data Systems, as well as newfound competition from a phalanx of well-financed start-ups with superior (at least on paper) hardware architectures.

But a more interesting battle is brewing on the software side. Investing billions of dollars in software R&D over the last few years, EMC clearly plans to reinvent itself as a more software-focused company. "He who controls the software in large part controls the hardware," the argument goes.

The linchpin of EMC's software strategy is WideSky, middleware that may eventually allow storage administrators to manage not only EMC's hardware but also storage subsystems from all or most of its competitors.

It would be the Holy Grail that the industry has been striving toward for years: Automated management of heterogeneous environments. Ideally, this would have been accomplished via industry standards, but the industry has failed to produce such a standard(s). As such, it's possible that the leading independent (non-server) storage supplier could give IT managers want they want in the form of a de facto management standard.

Ironically, however, the success of WideSky depends in part on the cooperation of EMC's primary competitors, most notably Compaq, IBM, and Hitachi Data Systems (and HDS resellers Hewlett-Packard and Sun), not to mention Network Appliance and any other vendor with a sizable market share.

On one hand, it seems ludicrous that EMC's arch-rivals would cooperate by sharing their APIs, which would be necessary for WideSky to provide anything but minimal management capabilities in mixed- vendor environments.

On the other hand, EMC's competitors may be forced-by you-into playing nicely with the 800-pound gorilla. Contrary to popular belief, end users-not EMC or its rivals-hold the key to WideSky's success or failure. If you think that EMC's software is the best and/or fastest way to get a grip on managing your burgeoning heterogeneous storage environments, then you can force your other hardware suppliers to tow the line (by opening up their APIs to EMC).

If end users don't control the future of storage management, then we'll be left with the vendors sorting it out. And, assuming a lack of true industry standards (a reasonable assumption), that would seem to leave two possibilities: EMC's primary competitors could all band together (an unlikely scenario) or unite with a pure-play software vendor such as Veritas (a more likely scenario) to create an alternative de facto standard-or standards. This scenario would call to mind the old adage: The nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.

So, the ball's in your court: End users and third- party integrators can significantly influence the outcome of the storage management battles. And, really, who cares who "wins" in the vendor community?

This article was originally published on February 01, 2002