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Sources mutter of 'disarray' among EMC's quadruple object products

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Two EMC insiders whisper to The Register that all is not well at the storage biz. They claim that EMC's object storage strategy is in complete disarray and that senior execs are locking horns over the wreckage. EMC, meanwhile, contends that its current multi-product, multi-teamed object storage strategy is working perfectly well.

The storage firm's spokesman told El Reg: "We've never had a plan to merge Isilon and Atmos (or Centera). The firm added: "Both business units have been performing well and we expect them to continue to drive growth for EMC."

One individual familiar with the matter told the Register:

"EMC's strategy for Object with Centera, Atmos, Isilon, and now ViPR is confusing, flawed, and inefficient … and causing internal fireworks."

The Isilon and Atmos strategies are "a complete internal crapshow" with lots of "wasted time … internal fights … late-night bitch sessions … and a complete lack of respect for shareholder value."

EMC has four object storage products and technologies:

1. Centera, its original content-addressable store (CAS) for fixed content, with a proprietary API access protocol. It was part of EMC's Backup and Recovery Systems (BRS) division which is run by EMC president Guy Churchward. Now Centera is part of the Advanced Software Division's product set.

2. Atmos, its newer scale-out object storage product, supporting the REST protocol and for fixed and mutable business content. It was also part of the BRS product set and is now in ASD. It is intended for public cloud storage with a globally distributed architecture and Amazon S3 compatibility. Atmos had Centera CAS support added in June, 2011, and has geo-synchronisation and secure multi-tenancy functionality which Isilon does not.

3. Isilon, its scale-out NAS product that is having an object storage capability added to it through ViPR. EMC states: "This integration opens up new options for access to object storage APIs from Amazon S3, EMC Atmos and others.

OneFS now incorporates a REST Object Access to Namespace interface which provides access to data and is part of the Platform API which enables automation, orchestration and management of Isilon storage. For customers that are deploying the OpenStack ecosystem and want to leverage this integration with storage, Isilon will be supporting OpenStack Swift and Cinder integration, delivering an enterprise class storage solution, increasing reliability, security, efficiency and enterprise interoperability."

The Isilon product is owned by the Isilon Systems Division, run by president Bill Richter.

4. ViPR, its heterogeneous storage management and access layer that virtualises storage provided by VMAX, VNX, Isilon, Atmos and NetApp arrays, presenting it as virtual file, block or object storage using its own object storage software. This is a product in the relatively new Advanced Software Division (ASD) run by Amitabh Srivastava. ASD has gained ownership of the Atmos and Centera products. However, BRS sells Atmos and Centera as archival storage but doesn't sell the policy-driven software-defined ViPR product.

EMC states: "ViPR Object Data Services will provide Amazon S3 and OpenStack Swift compatible REST APIs and HDFS access methods — existing software applications written to these APIs should run seamlessly. ViPR Object Data Services will support existing EMC Atmos, EMC VNX and EMC Isilon arrays as a persistence layer in addition to third party arrays and commodity hardware."

With ViPR, HDFS object storage can be provisioned from VMSX, VNX and Isilon arrays, as an EMC March 2013 Strategic Update slide shows:

Goulden ViPR March 2013

EMC president & COO David Goulden - Slide 34 from March 2013 Strategic Update deck

At present ViPR object data services are not shipping. In effect, as a second EMC insider told us: "The Advanced Software Division has all the object storage assets. BRS sells some of them, Isilon uses one of them."

EMC sales reps belong to its business divisions. So a customer looking to talk directly with EMC about object storage can potentially talk to two reps - from Backup Recovery Systems (BRS) and Isilon Storage Division (ISD). It's confusing. Our source tells us that this multi-product, multi-division object overlap is causing fireworks within EMC. For example:

If you want to get an earful, call up an EMC BRS rep and tell them that Isilon is going to replace one of their Centeras. If you want to see some fireworks, call up an Isilon rep and tell them their Isilon campaign was replaced with Atmos.

Our first source added:

I know that EMC paints this picture of overlapping products "on purpose" and it's not necessarily a bad strategy overall; however, the infighting over Atmos (and Centera) and Isilon positioning is awful. It is way worse than Clarion versus Symm; worse than Avamar versus Data Domain, and so on.

Our source continued: "Isilon's biggest competition comes from EMC's BRS division" and that internal inter-divisional battles over this at EMC are sometimes played out in front of customers.

We're told by a second EMC insider: "I wouldn't be surprised if they were fighting. EMC is very Darwinian … [There's] nothing like putting one purchase order in front of two people with a sales quota to watch the fur fly."

The overlap, our second insider said, is deliberate:"The thing about overlapping products is the company won't leave a gap anywhere where a competitor can grow unchallenged."

Moreover, according to the insider, Atmos and Isilon use-case positioning is, "...very clear; Atmos when you need geo-distribution, Isilon + ViPR when you want to access existing NAS data via object interface."

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