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April 17, 2012

5.001: vspex, vblock and enterprise clouds

Moscow view Last week’s VSPEX announcement let the world know how serious EMC is about being a channel friendly partner.  Compared to competitive announcements made by various companies last week, EMC demonstrated far more commitment to the channel community.  In essence, the VSPEX announcement was about EMC’s partners, whereas the Netapp, IBM and HP announcements were about… well, Netapp, IBM and HP.

Last week's announcements are being vigorously debated in the blogosphere, so for my part I'll try to explore some ground that may not be covered elsewhere.

First, my observations on the VSPEX announcement and why EMC's event was different than what was announced by the other folks last week.

EMC announced:

  • Proven reference architectures built on a collective 9000+ staff years of experience and upon technology widely deployed throughout the world;
  • Market expansion through enabling partners to capture more revenue at better margins, aided by EMC GTM incentives and programs;
  • An actual VSPEX lab, leveraging EMC's $3 Billion in eLab investments and 100+ interoperability qualification engineers;
  • The ability for partners to leverage EMC branding for the first time, enabling them to piggyback their own brand in the solutions they deliver to customers;
  • And last (but not least),flexible customer procurement options thought EMC financing

In all, far more comprehensive than simply another reference architecture.

Now, what I'd really like to talk about was what was not discussed as much over the past week…

 

vspex vs. vblock

In my job as Chief Strategy Officer for EMC's Enterprise Storage Division, I interact daily with global corporations that are looking beyond incremental improvements and asking "what do I really want IT to look like, and how can I best support the business by getting things into production fast, operating efficiently and lowering costs?". 

At their core, all the announcements last week stressed flexibility as a way of communicating that customers can "have it their way", choosing the components that they want from the vendors that they want. 

Now, this has been a fact of life in the IT industry for the last 4 decades or so, but it is also a trend that is increasingly out of step with large complex systems in other industries.  Imagine an airline insisting that Boeing or Airbus include a specific engine component from a different vendor and what the implications would be on cost, performance, safety and ongoing support from the supplier.  Ditto for the car in your garage or the central air conditioning system in your house. While you could theoretically hand-select all the components that go into the next HDTV or cell phone that you purchase, it simply isn’t practical for 99.99999999% of consumers – especially if you want a service and replacement warranty on the device to boot (and who doesn’t?).

While small businesses and a large portion of the commercial market may have budget, skills and political obstacles to doing things differently, the global customers I meet with are increasingly seeing that standardization is the only way to bring complexity under control. When they look to standardize, they are taking a strategic view and looking for long-term benefits.  EMC's recent run of market share gains are at least partly due to customer recognition that EMC's technology is superior and consistent with their objectives to increase efficiency at scale – whether it be FAST VP, VFCache, VNX, VPLEX, Isilon or Data Domain that delivers the quantifiable value and allows IT organizations to be more effective and nimble.

My prediction is that reference architectures will dominate airwaves over the next year or two and they will make for some very entertaining posturing – especially in the commercial market segments. Further, I expect that the not-so-secret sauce behind VSPEX will emerge as the most viable approach to channel-delivered integrated solutions, thanks to its comprehensive nature and the immense value of the companies backing this initiative.

Meanwhile, I also expect that large enterprises will increasingly make the long term commitments to fully standardized and integrated product offerings like VCE's Vblock platforms. VCE is the antithesis of reference architectures, and they've made the tough decision to focus solely on industry leading technology – VMware virtualization, Cisco UCS, and EMC storage – that is designed as a fully unified system by their engineering team working closely with development teams at VMware, EMC and Cisco.

Through Vblock platforms, customers are able to

  • Get into production much quicker with less risk – making IT teams successful at new projects and letting them get business critical apps into virtualized environments more quickly than they could with the old “roll your own” approach
  • Minimize the amount of time and effort devoted to keeping the lights on – enabling IT to be more strategic and proactive
  • Increase availability/uptime –  Vblock platforms are assembled like a work of art in a state of the art factory, and VCE provides direction on software updates. When customers don't mess with their IT environment in an ad hoc fashion (i.e. networking vs. server vs. storage), their environment just keeps working and this is a big reason why Vblock platforms are popular for mission critical applications.

I also predict that as a byproduct benefit of VSPEX being introduced and marketed to the SMB and commercial customers, it will be easier for VCE to rise above the fray with their "un-reference architecture" message. VCE's strong growth is precisely because VCE understands their market and they provide exceptional differentiation to their target customers. While the big public debate goes on about whose reference architecture is more flexible (I think EMC made a huge statement with VSPEX), VCE is blazing the path of the future that is rapidly becoming mainstream across the Enterprise IT market.


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