EMC held its annual user conference in Las Vegas this week. Amid a snowstorm of press releases, slick video clips and Lotus racing cars, here are some of the main takeaways.

Storage Of Every Flavor

The Harry Potter series made famous Bertie Bolt’s Every Flavor Beans. EMC appears to be going a similar route with its storage offerings. Back in the day, you got a large storage array to plug into a SAN. Over time, NAS and other offerings appeared. And now it’s any flavor you like. While the many announcements at the show appeared to be all over the map, the unifying factor was an effort to offer storage on anything users might desire.

“My big takeaway from EMC World is that the company is allowing users to choice whichever way they want their storage wrapped,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO group. “You can have it big iron wrapped, little iron wrapped, software defined wrapped, tin wrapped (appliance) or open source wrapped.”

EMC Reorg

EMC has shuffled its internal structure. There is an overall EMC federation which consists of VMware, RSA, Pivotal and EMC Information infrastructure. Within the latter, there are two divisions. EMC Core Technologies which consists of the EMC’s traditional products such as its storage arrays and data protection. There is also an Emerging Technologies Division where it puts all its software-defined and cutting edge elements.

“We didn’t want to encumber our Emerging Technologies Division with the designs of the past,” said Jeremy Burton, President, Products & Marketing, EMC. “That leaves them free to architect for distributed architectures and software defined.”

New Converged System

EMC’s VCE unit has supplemented its Vblock converged storage boxes with VxRack, which the company characterizes as a new family of hyper-converged rackscale systems aimed at scale-out mobile, cloud and distributed Tier 2 applications. This pre-engineered system can be run on any hypervisor, said Jonathan Martin, EMC’s Chief Marketing Officer. You can start with a quarter rack and take it up from there.

“You can scale VxRack up to 38 PB, 1000 nodes and 240 million IOPS,” said Martin.

EMC Goes Open Source

EMC made its name with proprietary storage hardware. More than a decade ago, it emerged with a strong software strategy firmly couched in proprietary storage code. What a surprise, then, when the company announced that it was changing old habits and entering the open source world via EMC VNXe (EMC vVNX Community Edition). This free software lets users build test and development environments using whatever hardware they wish.

“We are making customers part of the product development cycle and open source is going,” said Guy Churchward, President, Core Technologies Division, EMC. “This is only the beginning of a strategy where most if not all our next platform software will be open source.”

CJ Desai, President Emerging Technologies Division, EMC, added that the EMC ViPR controller is now fully open source and available for free. How it will work is that there is a community version known as CoprHD which will be developed independently of EMC, though the company will contribute to it. EMC will offer its own commercial version that automates and provisions storage, and can also manages non-EMC systems. Further, EMC is making its ScaleIO software freely available to developers for test and development environments.

Software Only

Burton said this is part of a major philosophical shift for the company. EMC is even questioning the very notion of having dedicated hardware and software on an array. He said the way ahead will likely be software defined storage or else having the storage software directly connected to the server.

“We plan to make all of our products available as software only,” said Burton.

A virtual version of Data Domain is also in the works. But Burton thinks many companies will still prefer to have EMC engineer a combined hardware and software package rather than building their own systems.

EMC Sees The End

EMC’s CEO of Information Infrastructure David Goulden made an interesting prediction about the future – the end or at least the gradual fading away of traditional storage. He noted that despite capacity growth of 30%, overall revenues have been flat i.e. EMC has been selling a lot more storage hardware capacity and has carved a larger slice of market share yet hasn’t been making more money there.

“Backup appliances, scale-out systems, converged systems and all flash will be the expansion areas in storage sales in the future,” said Goulden. “The market for traditional storage arrays will decline over the next three years.”

Extreme Flash

EMC’s XtremIO all-flash array has been updated to reduce management overhead, boost performance, and provide new features such as automation and in-line data services like deduplication and compression.

“Nicknamed ‘The Beast’ by customers, XtremIO has been a rocket ship for us, growing faster than VMware did after we acquired it,” said Churchward.

He said that revenue is now close to a billion for EMC’s high-end flash offering. He attributed its success to the fact that it’s more than shoving flash into tin. He said it’s about the right software architecture to achieve high performance, high capacity and low latency. XtremeIO’s can be clustered to have up to 16 controllers and around 2 PB of flash.

Cheaper All Flash Array

Instead of flying business class via XtremeIO, those wishing an all flash array but not needing such high performance can select an economy-class alternative known as the VNXe3200 all-flash variant, which is being sold through the channel. The 3 TB VNXe3200 is one has a starting price of under $25,000.

Not All Flash

Despite its heavy emphasis on flash, Goulden doesn’t believe flash will conquer all, at least for now. There is still a place for disk for lower-tier storage and for storing large volumes of data.

“We won’t be seeing all flash data centers anytime soon,” said Goulden.

The Vendors Won

The final point concerns storage and IT industry trade shows. A decade or so back, we had vast independent gatherings like Comdex. Specific to storage there were Storage Networking World and Storage World. All have gone the way of the CD-ROM, the floppy disk and the 56k Internet connection.

In their place are now vendor owned and controlled events. Under the EMC umbrella alone there are EMC World, VM World and the RSA conference. And then you have similar shows hosted by vendors such as Cisco, Dell, Microsoft and others. All are well attended. Bottom line: earlier efforts to establish industry trade organizers to provide an independent voice have lost the war. For better or worse, the vendors have emerged the victors and have vastly more power than any industry body or trade group.

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