EMC focuses on ILM

By Heidi Biggar

Not surprisingly, information life-cycle management (ILM) was front and center at the EMC Technology Summit last month. The event, which is held annually for EMC customers and partners, drew a crowd of more than 2,500—an increase of 25% from last year, according to company officials.

While EMC did not make any specific ILM-related product announcements at the event, the company was certainly not short on vision. "Looking forward, we'd like to be known as the information management company, not just a storage company," said Joe Tucci, EMC president and CEO, during the opening keynote address.

Toward that end, Tucci says EMC will continue to invest significantly (about 12% of revenues) in research and development. The company also hinted at further acquisitions.

EMC attributes its renewed strength in part to its acquisitions of Documentum, Legato, and VMware, as well as to several key trends, including the explosion of digital content, the ongoing shift to disk-based backup and recovery, and the increasing appeal of ILM-related products and services among end users.

The company's latest string of acquisitions began with Legato last October, Documentum in December, and VMware in January. VMware is a vendor of server virtualization software.

EMC posted 35% higher revenue in the first quarter of 2004 versus the first quarter of 2003. Core revenue, which excludes revenue from acquisitions, was up 21%.

"We've gone through a three-year restructuring...and refinement period and are now poised for strong growth," said Tucci.

Looking forward, Tucci said EMC will continue to bring more technologies under the ILM umbrella, improve data protection and backup-and-recovery capabilities, help users with compliance, deal with increasing stockpiles of fixed-content data (Tucci claims that more than 75% of fixed-content data is currently being stored on primary disk), and centrally manage information (e.g., via ControlCenter). Also, EMC is closely monitoring the trend toward server and storage consolidation (i.e., grid computing) and the role VMware's technology may play in this space.

"[We're] all about becoming the ultimate ILM company," said Mark Lewis, executive vice president for EMC Software. "[Our software strategy] is to 'fill it out' [with technology and through acquisitions], 'open it up' [through standards], integrate the layers, and improve customers' overall experience."

Of course, the challenge is assembling the various pieces into what EMC describes as an "integrated information infrastructure" with "comprehensive infrastructure management." "We'd love to sell you ILM v1.0 but, unfortunately, it's made up of a lot of pieces," said Lewis.

The reality is that ILM as a stand-alone product may never exist from EMC or any other vendor, according to industry analysts, who point out that ILM is a process, not a product. ILM is about characterizing the value of information to an organization over time and then building an infrastructure that allows users to manage that data cost-effectively (see "The ABCs of ILM," InfoStor, January 2004, p.1).

The first step in the ILM process, according to EMC, is to build a flexible base of tiered network storage products consisting of high-end, midrange, and low-end primary disk, network-attached storage (NAS), content-addressed storage (CAS), tape emulation products, and even tape.

"We know that tape isn't going away," said Tucci. "[And we know that] to have a complete ILM story, [we have] to offer it. We want to know where data is—even if it's on tape," he said.

Addressing rumors of a possible tape-related acquisition, Tucci said that reselling was his "primary thought" on the matter.

Software plans

Meanwhile, on the software front EMC is focusing on improving users' ability to dynamically move data of all types (structured, unstructured, and semi-structured) around the network by creating a virtualization layer that will serve as the "glue" between applications and the storage infrastructure, according to Lewis.

"Our failure in the past was in making this 'tie-in' [between applications and infrastructure]," said Lewis. He expects ILM to start as being very applications-focused, but over time it will become infrastructure-focused. In the near term, EMC says it will focus on expanding application coverage. Long-term plans call for integrated ILM capabilities, which will allow for dynamic movement of both applications and information. The ability to do this hinges on the company's ability to commercialize its "Storage Router" virtualization strategy, which will reportedly allow users to move and migrate data non-disruptively throughout a network.

"[Storage Router] will allow users to build a continuous data operation environment [where] there is no more downtime," said Lewis. "Users will be able to migrate storage in and out of their environments, change types of storage, tier storage, and provision storage all without rebooting and taking systems offline."

Storage Router is expected to begin a 12-month beta testing process in the third quarter. According to Lewis, the router will be based on standards, which will allow EMC to port its software to any intelligent switch platform (e.g., those being developed by Brocade, Cisco, McData, and others).

As for criticism about the company's comparatively late entry into the fabric-based intelligence market, Lewis said: "We're not worried about the time to market. We're taking an enterprise-class approach—[something] that no other vendor can [say]."

Besides potential technology differences among the various fabric-based intelligence products, there is also the issue of end-user adoption. Explains Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm: "Although some users do have a need for it today, adoption of fabric-based intelligence has been minimal, and we don't expect adoption to start ramping significantly for 12 to 18 months. The reality is that 2005 is not going to be too late [for EMC]."

The initial release of Storage Router will support EMC storage and "may" support non-EMC storage, too, according to Lewis. In its initial release, the technology is designed for large, not small, environments. Replication and other "basic" features will be kept in the array, said Lewis.

Meanwhile, EMC continues to work on supporting standards such as SMI-S, iSCSI, the Fabric API, Object Storage, and others—however, not at the expense of its ILM strategy. "It is our pledge to maintain the openness of our products so [users] can pick and choose [what they need], but we're still going to integrate the pieces better to facilitate ILM," said Lewis.

The company is currently building a software reference model, or architectural model called Common Architecture, Modules, and Services (CAMS) that, among other things, is intended to make it easier for users to license, manage, and upgrade their environments by providing a common user experience across all products.

Users can expect a variety of application-specific product releases over the next few quarters, including new releases of EmailXtender and DatabaseXtender, as well as enhancements to EMC's PowerPath, Visual SAN, VisualSRM, and DCTM products.

EMC takes NAS to the low end

Last month, EMC further fleshed out its tiered storage lineup with the addition of the NetWin 110 and NetWin 200 network-attached storage (NAS) devices. The NetWin 110 NAS Gateway, which has a starting price of $6,100, can be directly attached to any CLARiiON CX array; the NetWin 200 NAS Gateway can be used as either a gateway to a storage area network (SAN) or directly attached to a CLARiiON CX.

Both NAS gateways are based on Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 software. Advanced capabilities include support for Microsoft Exchange change 2003, Legato RepliStor replication software and NetWorker backup software, and EMC OnCourse (for content distribution).

The NetWin 110 will be sold exclusively through EMC's distributors, including Arrow Electronics, Avnet, and Tech Data.

This article was originally published on June 01, 2004