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EMC hooks up with Lenovo, tries to penetrate China

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The head mandarin of storage firm EMC, Joe Tucci, has signed a strategic partnership with computer-maker Lenovo involving China penetration, Lenovo replacing Dell in EMC's affections, SMB filers and – word has it – servers.

The deal will help Lenovo get a look-in within the x86 server segment. These servers will be sold by Lenovo and embedded into selected EMC storage systems over time.

Under the new deal, the companies have built an OEM and reseller relationship in which Lenovo will provide EMC’s networked storage solutions to the server business market.

Lenovo is the Chinese PC supplier that bought IBM's PC business and is making a great success of it, as it plays catch-up with HP..

The deal involves:

  • A server technology development programme, with Lenovo selling the servers and EMC embedding them in its arrays over time.
  • An OEM and reseller relationship – with Lenovo selling EMC storage into China and then other geographies "in step with the ongoing development of its server business."
  • Lenovo financing and majority-owning a small/medium business NAS joint-venture using parts of EMC's Iomega subsidiary and EMC IP.

There is an irony in the NAS story as EMC first bought Iomega away from a subsidiary of a Chinese government-owned firm.

EMC already develops its own servers, which it uses inside its storage arrays. It does not need Lenovo technology but could, conceivably, eventually redeploy its server investment elsewhere inside EMC. There are wheels within wheels here as EMC plus its VMware subsidiary allies with Cisco to provide the Vblocks – the converged Cisco server/EMC storage/Cisco networking/VMware hypervisor converged systems built and shipped by VCE.

We understand that Cisco's UCS servers are positioned as high-end servers whereas the Lenovo ones will be smaller scale. However, Lenovo will no doubt be responding to the converged systems trend and will develop its own converged systems – comprising EMC storage and its own servers. EMC also has the VSPEX template-based converged system which partners build using components in the template. This is a looser converged system, similar to the Cisco-NetApp FlexPod, and we imagine that VSPEX variants or equivalents could in future twin EMC storage with Lenovo servers.

Lenovo deal could disrupt the EMC-Cisco partnership

Another form of converged server/storage system involves running applications directly in storage arrays, and EMC has said it is developing this capability, using spare X86 controller engines, embedded servers, in its VMAX, VNX and Isilon arrays. With the Lenovo deal we see EMC signalling it will use Lenovo servers for this, and not Cisco servers. Why not? Didn't Cisco want the business? Did EMC want to distance itself from Cisco?

We don't know how big a market there will be for in-array servers. If it is trivial then Cisco could afford to walk away from it. If it is not then Cisco's wily CEO John Chambers might entertain talking to NetApp and suggesting that UCS server blades could usefully slot into NetApp's ONTAP FAS arrays, making them go faster – especially with the UCS blades sporting Fusion-io flash, which NetApp is integrating with its VST array caching technologies.

If that happens, Tucci will call down all sorts of curses on Chambers' head. We saw such a stable pairing of Dell and EMC disintegrate once Dell got ambitious. How stable is the Cisco-EMC relationship? Will the developing ambitions of EMC and Cisco put that relationship under such stress that a train wreck becomes inevitable? That has to be a potential outcome, especially with VMware and Cisco starting to compete in the software-defined networking arena with VMware's Nicera acquisition.

Lenovo could be the final straw that destroys the Cisco-EMC partnership. ®

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