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EMC Unloads Both Barrels for Product Refresh

EMC's announcement Monday of upgrades and new products across its entire family of networked storage established a couple of things, according to analysts.

First, it showed how the Hopkinton, Mass., storage systems vendor is unifying its product lines along its information lifecycle management (ILM) strategy for managing content from its birth until it is ready to be expunged from a company network.

Second, it showed that EMC is still loyal to its hardware roots. Doubling up on performance and capacity from last year's inaugural Symmetrix DMX high-end system to its latest DMX-2 offering is testament to that.

The two points are related. Reaffirming its hardware interests is crucial for a company trying to present a truly unified platform for corralling data on a network.

Within an ILM framework, documents are monitored and shepherded on a business' network infrastructure. Keeping track of documents has become increasingly important with the heightened sensitivity over keeping records intact due to corporate governance guidelines. This puts pressure on businesses to install infrastructure capable of maintaining and retrieving documents for long periods of time.

While the prospect of becoming familiar with a new product may be daunting, EMC is allaying customer fears about having outdated storage systems by offering unilateral backwards compatibility between the new and old Symmetrix boxes and Clariion machines for the medium-sized enterprise customer.

"Integration up and down the stack really plays well with EMC's ILM strategy," said Sageza Research Group Director Charles King. "They are going out the door with unified product upgrades and new products and everything is tied everything together. EMC has an awful lot of equipment out there and they are making it as easier for older customers who haven't upgraded in the last couple of product cycles to get into ILM because of the backwards compatibility of the hardware."

To make its bid for ILM succeed, EMC has been grabbing the limelight for its trinity of software acquisitions, buying data archivist Legato Systems, enterprise content management outfit Documentum and making a play for server virtualization concern VMware.

The seemingly tunnel-minded view on buying software to bolster ILM caused many industry watchers to ask if EMC is becoming a software company. But by launching the broadest array of hardware products in the company's history, EMC has perhaps put those concerns to rest.

"The biggest take away here is that EMC was able to choreograph a complete refresh of its enormous hardware family," said Enterprise Storage Group analyst Peter Gerr. "The biggest headline here is that despite those software acquisitions and ILM, EMC is still a storage company and it will not be distracted from where its bread gets buttered."

Tucci Answers the Question

EMC President and CEO Joseph Tucci addressed the question Monday in a conference call to unveil the new products.

"Some people look at the software companies we've acquired recently and asked me: 'Is EMC becoming a software company?' My answer is always the same. First, I point out that EMC is squarely focused on storage and information management. And we aim to have the best hardware and software and services to help our customers tie it all together."

The products were across-the-board upgrades, a first in the more than 20-year history of the company. Tucci pointed out that the company spent 11.5 percent of its revenues on research and development to accelerate the company's innovation cycle.

It seems to have paid dividends. While EMC had previously featured product cycles in the 24 to 36-month range, Tucci said that time is now down to 12 to 18 months in an attempt to leapfrog past rivals IBM , Hitachi Data Systems , HP and others in the storage market.

For example, DMX-2 came out about a year after the original, while the new mid-range Clariion CX 300, 500 and 700 boxes appeared 18 months after the original Clariions, all boasting more performance at the same price as is CX 200, 400 and 600 predecessors, which they will replace. Moreover, Tucci promised to deliver low-end CX machines some time this year.

ESG's Gerr described the new products as having "all the power of a Hummer and the speed of a Ferrari," but argued that customers are less interested in "speeds and feeds claims" than they are in real-world response time, including reliability and availability to respond to significant changes in their environment.

"EMC has shown the ability to create a system that not only puts up with requests but that handles spikes in performance requirements," Gerr told internetnews.com. "And they've made it much easier to upgrade. You have to take the system down to upgrade, but it's up again in a matter of minutes versus days associated with a significant overhaul."

All of these details may make EMC an attractive choice in a competitive market.

"Over the past couple of years, systems vendors like IBM, SUN and HP have insisted that customers buy storage as part of larger systems offering," King told internetnews.com. "EMC has made a very convincing argument that innovation continues to come from specialists."

Still, while such products are tailored to give EMC an edge, Sageza's King found EMC's standards news to be of greatest interest: EMC said Symmetrix and Symmetrix DMX systems shipped since 1997 and Clariion and Clariion CX systems shipped since 2000 can now be managed by software based on Storage Management Interface specifications (SMI-S), a schema to promote interoperability among disparate storage networks.

"It would be foolish at this point to award any vendor a gold star for their SMI-S efforts, but if EMC should succeed the company's newly refreshed and united product line could provide a powerful lure to storage customers and a powerful obstacle to EMC's competitors," King said in a research note.