Impressions from EMC World 2016

EMC World – there is no place better to get a gut feel for what’s happening in IT infrastructure. I spend my time meeting customers for 30 minutes or less, so it’s nearly impossible to deeply understand anybody’s environment, solve their problems, or even clearly differentiate people. If you just let the relentless stream of information flow over you, however, you can get a visceral sense of where the industry is trending. [Editor’s note: Yes, this sounded like nonsense to us, too. Next time, take some notes.] I captured five themes from EMC World 2016.

#1 – Renewed focus on the future vs. paying off technical debt

Virtually every customer wanted to talk about “what’s next”. Some were deploying multiple applications on converged infrastructure. Many were already running application-direct backups (via Data Domain BOOST) or storage-direct data protection (via ProtectPoint). Most had begun to use the cloud. All were interested in increasing their agility and responsiveness to the business.

In contrast, most of last year’s EMC World meetings focused on paying off technical debt. The discussions revolved around streamlining existing deployments, troubleshooting issues, and simplifying technical refreshes. Cloud was being thrust upon them, cutting costs trumped agility, and they were worried about meeting backup windows and improving backup success rate.

Why such a big difference? First, the customers have paid down much of their technical debt, so they’ve freed up time and energy to look to future. Second, they were both excited and scared about the impact of cloud. Everybody understands that the cloud – and the radically different expectations it generates – is here. Teams understand that they must improve their on-premises agility and harness the cloud. Otherwise, their application developers will bypass them. Conversely, this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for infrastructure teams to influence application development and connect to the business. Everybody wants to define their path to the future.

#2 – All Flash – Back to Basics

One customer hugged me and gushed, “Thank you for making the all-flash VMAX and the all-flash Unity models.” Since I’ve never turned down praise for others’ hard work, I accepted the hug and asked, “Why does it make you so happy?” I had him pegged as a die-hard flash enthusiast, but instead he confided, “Because I can finally buy storage based on something other than the media.”

Multiple customers were relieved to go back to buying storage based on the “basics” – reliability, availability, manageability, cost, performance, functionality, etc. – instead of whether it was “all-flash” or not. Until now, they’d been constrained because their upper management had concluded that “if it’s not all-flash, it must be obsolete”. [Of course, one of them needled me by saying, “It would be like saying that tape is dead and all backups should go to disk.”]

The storage teams were not trying to cling to the past, however. We had really good discussions about the value of our different types of storage and what would be best suited for their environments, including:

  • Using XtremIO for one customer’s SAP production and test environment (due to the efficiencies in I/O performance, snapshot/cloning, and ability to scale).
  • Using SRDF to replicate from an All-Flash VMAX to a hybrid VMAX3 for DR, using SnapVX to do DR test off the VMAX-3, and using ProtectPoint to back up the VMAX3 to Data Domain for instant recovery.
  • Replicating snapshots from an All-Flash Unity to a Hybrid Unity for end-to-end Data Protection.

In other words, they don’t have to choose their storage based on the media. They can, once again, choose their storage and the media based on their business needs.

#3 – Unity – Best in Show

Everybody was talking about Unity. Some of the statements:

  • I can finally have an all-flash system to run VMs over NFS. (Customer)
  • The new snapshots mean I can sell pairs of Unity systems to cover production storage and protection. (Channel salesperson)
  • VVOLS! We have VVOLS! (Mark Twomey – @storagezilla)
  • I never thought I’d say this, but I actually see the value of an EMC UI. (Analyst)
  • I love how you managed the fans and cooling!!!! (Somebody on the show floor that I made sure didn’t follow me back to my hotel room).
  • I was part of Beta Testing and I love the product! Oh, but I’d like better performance monitoring for spikes. (Somebody on the elevator who then high fived me and slapped me on the butt).

The elegance and simplicity of the product has captured people’s imagination. More importantly, as Chad Sakac discussed, it proves that EMC can still implement significant evolutionary innovation without resorting to acquisition.

Congratulations to Unity – the Belle of the Ball!

#4 – Copy Data Management – What does it really mean?

If Unity was the product of EMC World 2016, then Copy Data Management was the leading topic of discussion.

Every customer expressed frustration about their Data Management struggles, including:

  • Understanding what is in the cloud and how to protect and secure it
  • Protecting OpenStack environments
  • Protecting and understanding what is in large NAS and object environments
  • Confusion between availability and DR (i.e. keeping online vs. being able to go to a previous point in time if something is corrupted)
  • Confusion between application availability and storage availability
  • Frustration about how to differentiate between long-term retention of backups and archive
  • Confusion about when/how/why to do traditional backup vs. newer versioned replication workflows
  • Confusion about data path (e.g. ProtectPoint) vs. control path (e.g. EMC eCDM – Enterprise Copy Data Manager) vs. analytics (e.g. EMC eCDA – Enterprise Copy Data Analytics)
  • What does Copy Data Management mean in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS environments? Hyperconverged environments? Traditional Technical Debt environments?
  • How do I manage what’s INSIDE the copies, not just the copies themselves?
  • Will I have as many CDM products as I do copies? Where’s the heterogeneity?
  • Where should I start – test & dev, backup, DR, …?
  • How much is technology vs. people and process?

There is widespread interest and tremendous confusion about copy data management. This means two things:

  1. Copy Data Management, done properly, is one of the most important things Dell EMC can work on.
  2. We’ve got to clarify what we’re doing and why because the customers are unsure about how to start implementing CDM.

#5 – Business Risk

IT organizations continue to evolve. While we focus on technology and organizational changes, they are driven by a more fundamental shift – IT truly is connecting with the business. Our customers continually evaluated our discussions through the lens of business risk.

Almost everyone said they were transitioning from being an “X” company (whatever they make) that uses technology to a technology company that makes “X”. They understand that their companies are using technology to better connect with their customers. As a result, more traditional risks take on a higher impact: ransomware, data leakage, application downtime, data loss, compliance failures, etc. The view of risk, however, has also expanded. Cloudera CTO and Co-Founder Amr Awadallah talked about an insurance company that is using devices in cars to track and reward good drivers. Customers also understand that better distribution, identification, and analysis of information can enable their businesses to make better decisions. Finally, they realize that giving their developers scalable, secure, mobile-enabled frameworks can transform how their business connects with its customers.

In other words, business risk isn’t just about IT saying “no” or dragging your feet in the face of anything new. Refusing to take risk is the greatest risk of all, and both the IT team and business will not survive. Business risk truly is about delivering the right balance of innovation and safety.

While the discussions aren’t entirely new, the difference is that they’re not just happening at the executive level; they’re happening at every level.


EMC World 2016 was invigorating this year. The trends show that our customers are excited about the future, but they have numerous career-defining questions and challenges in front of them. Fortunately, they’re both technically challenging and important to their business, which means Dell EMC can make a real difference. The main conclusion is simple – we’ve all got a lot of work to do.

Stephen Manley @makitadremel

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