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EMC twisting 'young minds' to appreciate clouds

Cloudy-kool-aid dispensed to troops to encourage new sales style

EMC is currently running a series of educational days for its technical, customer-facing people (known as SEs in EMC cant) to help them explain how the company will move on from from exotically-engineered hardware to all manner of cloud enablement capers.

The Reg was able to intercept EMC blogger, veep and occasional K-Pop singer Chad Sakac between the Sydney and Melbourne days, and he explained what's going on.

Before he chatted with Vulture South, Sakac endured a three-hour lunch with some of EMC's biggest antipodean customers. He said they told him EMC is thought of as a big box mover. Sakac told them, and local SEs, that isn't the case any more.

The way Sakac sees it, changes like moving from arrays capable of running solid state and spinning disk to all solid state disk is neither here nor there. The resulting array remains a box tuned to read, write and transfer data at impressive speed, all while ensuring resiliency.

Building boxes capable of doing so was once a specialist pursuit, but these days software can deliver resilience just as well in many cases by pointing itself at numerous sources of compute, storage or networking resources, on-premises or in the cloud. Customers are therefore are less keen on superbly-engineered arrays that won't let applications down and instead crave infrastructure flexible enough to work with the resilience models built into applications.

Sakac said meeting those needs was one of the reasons EMC acquired flash array startup DDSD, which said showed “genius” by “natively speaking HDFS and the language of in-memory databases” as doing so means its eventual arrays will be better suited to cloud-scale applications than conventional arrays.

Tools like Cloud Foundry already want infrastructure that delivers access to all manner of resources, he said. Building infrastructure that lets developers take advantage of what's on offer, wherever it may be, is going to be more powerful than faster arrays.

Hence his belief that all-flash arrays are lovely, but not a major innovation.

That hardware is also getting cheaper and sufficiently powerful to make dedicated arrays look unreasonably pricey is also on EMC's mind.

“There is no no question it is possible to build software plus commercial-off-the-shelf hardware at a different price point and model than traditional appliances,” Sakac said, mentioning a customer that has built a 40 petabyte storage farm using EMC's ScaleIO software and generic hardware. Sakac knows EMC's ViPR and VMWare's VSAN can create similar outcomes.

EMC is alive to the threat such rigs pose to its hardware business. Rather than watch its array business erode, Sakac said the company will “embrace and lead that change” because while there will be some cannibalisation of its current customer base and business, he'd rather be eating his own than having someone else eat EMC's lunch.

“If you eat yourself, you eat others faster," he said.

This change means EMC is rather keen on business models like RedHat's, as it feels there's cash to be made selling software – virtual arrays and other code – and then charging support fees. Arrays still get a look in because not every organisation is happy to run or gain the expertise to operate commodity hardware: sometimes it is nice to have a packaged product that someone else understands intimately and is willing tend .

But Sakac said the reason for his tour of Australia and New Zealand – and similar tours being conducted this week in Asia and the USA – is to help EMC staff get their head around the fact that EMC can succeed without necessarily selling arrays.

“Neural plasticity is the most important thing at EMC now,” he said, adding that he is asking staff to have “young minds” because “we need everyone to be very dextrous now” to cope with the current wave of change.

Sakac said he is trying to help staff understand that it's time to talk emerging technology with customers even if that technology lacks all of the niceties found in a conventional array. and discuss emerging technologies like virtual arrays or software-defined storage, admit it can be cheaper than an array or better in a cloud-scale app, and say “let's find a way to solve a business problem” rather than look for a conventional EMC sale.

That's a big shift because “SEs and customers have been conditioned to be extra cautious” in the past.

Can EMC pull off this trick of walking customers and staff to the edge?

Sakac thinks the mere fact he's on the road urging the change – and that EMC knows the change it wants - is a good sign.

“Speaking for EMC I am delighted to be at a company that built a big business on infrastructure but is not afraid to build new ones.” With peak array upon us, that fearlessness is sorely needed. ®

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