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EMC: 'Hardware? We stopped doing that YEARS ago'

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EMC World 2013 Storage titan EMC doesn't really believe in hardware any more – the value is in the software.

The company has been on a shift for the past decade to wean itself off of a dependency on proprietary gear, and has instead been pouring resources into developing clever software, EMC head honcho Joe Tucci told The Register at EMC World in Sin City AKA Las Vegas on Tuesday.

"Our goal has always to been to use as much standard, commercial, off-the-shelf hardware as we can," Tucci said. "Years ago [we were] making many ASICs, today we're making one ASIC."

These days, EMC has fewer than 500 hardware engineers, out of a total engineering organization of around 12,000 people, Tucci said. "The rest are doing software – that amazes people".

The culmination of this shift to being a software-led hardware organization is ViPR – EMC's single management and orchestration interface for what it terms the "software defined data center". ViPR is designed to manage traditional hardware, along with commodity gear as used by the internet giants.

"Back in 2002 we had more of a balance between hardware and software engineers," Tucci told us. "This move to commodity is something we're helping drive."

For EMC to admit that the true value of its gear lies in software is a bit like a car company telling you that the chassis is worthless. It's as surprising an admission as it is indicative of how the technology industry is changing.

Software has come to the fore as companies battle with one another to rule the overlay that lets them control the greatest amount of hardware.

"Take a VNX, rip it apart – you'll find nothing in there you couldn't go and buy," EMC's chief operating officer David Goulden told us. "Our value is in the integration and the packaging."

For an example, Goulden pointed to EMC's two separate Amazon Web Services–killer private cloud technologies: HULK and ATMOS. Both allow the use of commodity hardware and both have most of their value in software, but the "vast majority of customers that buy our box have the choice and choose to buy hardware from us," Goulden said.

But how long that can remain the status quo is unknown – EMC reckons that by 2016, 12 per cent of workloads will sit in public clouds operated by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, 10 per cent in virtual private clouds, and 78 per cent in private clouds. Yet Amazon and Google both work to deploy as much self-built hardware as possible, running self-built software.

Though EMC is committed to software, and hopes ViPR can give it a route into service provider data centers, the future seems like it will see conflict between the software and hardware stacks of EMC and the completely disaggregated technologies of Google, Facebook, and the rest of the cloud brat pack.

"We're making sure we're going to be very open and we'll support commodity hardware," Goulden said. "But also that same architecture can support existing storage arrays." ®

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