Aberdeen Report: Will WideSky Help EMC Morph from Caterpillar to Butterfly?

This Aberdeen InSight report focuses on EMC’s attempt be a leader in the storage virtualization software market with its WideSky initiative.

Henry Ford is attributed as having said that people could buy his company’s Model T in any color, as long as the color was black. That cost-saving policy made sense for the then-dominant automaker.


EMC dominates in networked storage sales, overwhelmingly in sales of Symmetrix-powered storage area networks (SANs). Moreover, EMC says that it is the world’s largest seller of storage software, finessing the issue that the software runs only on EMC hardware.

Lurking Virtualization
Storage virtualization – creating logical storage out of heterogeneous physical storage – naturally poses a significant threat to a pure-play storage hardware vendor. But the EMC WideSky initiative counters that threat.

Under WideSky, EMC customers could purchase EMC software to manage any vendors’ hardware. Because EMC software is so good, that ability would be highly attractive in the marketplace.

Standards? What Standards?
In an earlier Aberdeen InSight, Storage Virtualization Needs Standards (October 12, 2001), we noted that unless independent storage virtualization vendors adopt standards for key storage service software – such as remote mirroring or point-in-time copying – customers could shy away because they may insist on the ability to use, say, EMC software.

Therefore, WideSky’s effectiveness to EMC as a counter to virtualization is made stronger by a lack of such standards. It is possible that more customers would prefer to use EMC software through WideSky, and, in effect, let EMC own the de facto storage virtualization standard, than adopt independent storage virtualization.

WideSky, therefore, could be EMC’s entree to the ranks of independent software vendors (ISVs) and its virtualization-fighter.

Fibre Channel vs. Internet Protocol Storage Networking
EMC’s present position also makes it very important that most SANs be implemented on Fibre Channel (FC) topology. EMC’s Symmetrix connects solely via FC fabric. EMC has recently offered a Symmetrix product with its own embedded FC fabric switch. EMC is big enough to wield great influence on the FC vendor community. For their part, FC vendors could do much more to foster inter-operability.

But when a hardware industry attempts to preserve “pure” technology, it may write its epilogue by ignoring disruptive technology and market forces.

Internet Protocol Means Strong Standards
Internet Protocol (IP) is gradually encroaching upon FC’s nearly exclusive domain as the topology of choice for SAN fabrics. Aberdeen’s Executive White Paper, IP-Based Storage: The Buzz on the Wire (May 2001), a free download, discusses why.

The IP community is vast, and its standards are strong. In short, it has more muscle than EMC. However, WideSky software can easily be made “protocol-agnostic.” Therefore, WideSky can also relieve EMC from impending threat from IP-based storage networking.

An EMC Metamorphosis?
On November 30, 2001, EMC announced formation of three operating divisions, Storage Platform Operations (e.g., hardware); Open Software Operations (e.g., software) – under newly promoted Executive Vice President Erez Ofer; and Customer Operations (sales, distribution, and support). Symmetrix’s developer Moshe Yanai was elevated to the role of Founder and EMC Fellow. Are those moves the first steps in the company’s metamorphosis?

Aberdeen Conclusions
Successful enterprises grow to dominate their markets, and then they become prey to competitors and disruptive technology. Bottom line, they either adapt or perish.

EMC may have milked the last drop out of its 12-year-old hardware technology. It’s no news of late that EMC has been besieged by vigorous competitors and threatened by newer technologies.

It looks as if EMC has a plan to adapt, and to continue to prosper. But it won’t be easy. The cultural changes alone would be immense, with plentiful internal upheavals. But EMC has morphed before, and the company has demonstrated time and again that it has the grit and determination of a small, fast, lean-and-mean operation.

If any company can morph from a caterpillar into a butterfly – a feat many others fail to accomplish – EMC probably can.

Dan Tanner is a senior analyst in storage and storage management for Aberdeen Group in Boston. E-mail him at [email protected]