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Things don't get any easier at EMC. While much of the world's media is speculating, quite stupidly, on its imminent acquisition by IBM, those people that actually use EMC kit are keeping a beady eye on the firm's fortunes.

Yesterday those fortunes took yet another turn for the worst as EMC lost it's one-time flagship customer Wal-Mart. Worse still, it was IBM that stole it.

The deal is an out-and-out coup for IBM. Wal-Mart will install 12 of Z Series mainframes and 20 Shark storage systems at the firm. These systems will apparently replace EMC and HDS kit.

For IBM it gives serious validation of its storage and mainframe story. For EMC this may be a decisive moment.

Any storage company that has Wal Mart on its books is a happy storage company. Wal-Mart, in case you don't know, is one of those big, stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap type of supermarkets. It operates more than 4,500 stores worldwide and has something in the region of 100 million people through its doors every week, - yes - every week.

That is, as you can imagine an awful lot of data. And any storage company that has Wal-Mart on its books is a happy storage company. EMC in particular is, or was, very proud indeed of its Wal-Mart heritage. About four years ago, on a press trip, EMC and Wal Mart gave us a tour of the Wal-Mart data centre and it was highly impressive. It showed just how far EMC had come – and just how much IBM had lost.

Now it looks like the tables are well and truly turned. Where EMC once held the lion's share of mainframe storage, IBM is gradually winning it back. The one thing lacked by IBM was a flagship Z-Series/Shark customer: Wal-Mart has given it this prize.

So what does EMC do now? According to various reports that have been doing the rounds over the past couple of weeks, EMC's top boy has a master plan that will be rolled out when times get really bad. Now it seems might be the time to roll out that strategy.

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