EMC CEO defends federated business model, debunks storage myths

"Any choice a customer makes, we have an opportunity someplace in the federation," Joe Tucci says.

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Computerworld: I want to go back to that flash memory market. You said, and these are your quotes: The competitors "make all kinds of stupid statements" about flash, and that a lot of this discussion is "bunk."

Tucci: Sounds like me.

Computerworld: Well, in light of that, lay out for customers how you see that market developing and what they should be thinking about when it comes to flash.

Tucci: Basically, forever and a day, there's going to be what I call a persistent tier of storage, which you don't need high performance from. Look at the cost curves of this technology, spinning disk, and look at the cost curves of flash. We're shipping in volume now 6TB drives, that's before you dedupe it. Incredibly low cost. Not the fastest access time, but it's still direct access.

So I'm saying there's going to be a need for that for a long, long time, this persistent tier of storage. People talk about consumer flash and deduping, but you can dedupe regular disk and most deduping happens in memory anyhow. So there's going to be a persistent tier, then there's going to be probably a flash tier and in-memory. [SAP's] HANA talks a lot about in-memory and tons of talk about flash and you can do that on one array too. What I'm saying is a lot of these flash guys, flash or zip, they forget about in-memory, they forget about persistence. For some applications, like a rendering of your desktop, maybe 90% of that is duplicated and because of the duplication properties, maybe that is a use case. But they'll talk about a corner use case as if it was prevalent. But in the database market that's not true. In the Hadoop market that's not true. These things are going to persist for a long, long, long time.

You want to have the ability to have it here and here, and here is going to be some flash, mostly disk, here is going to be all flash and here is going to be in-memory. And now you work those tiers. That's what customers need and that's what customers want.

I'm saying when you listen to some of these flash startup guys it's like one size fits all. It's like I'm only going to build size-8 shoes and if you've got a size 10 foot I'm going to stretch it. If you've got a size 5 shoe I'm going to put a lot of cotton in the front. It's ridiculous. That's all I said.

Computerworld: As I listen to you it sounds like it's less about the price of that kind of memory driving its expansion than the applicability to all of the applications.

Tucci: What they'll do is they'll take disk and put it in a constant and then they'll say: Here's the price curve for flash. Ergo, I'm going to be very competitive. But if you talk to the disk guys, and we talk to both -- I think we sell more of both than anybody else -- they're coming down too. You can't take a static view. I think for the next five years, probably longer -- five years I can guarantee -- you're going to see disk technology, you're going to see flash technology, you're going to see memory technologies. Customers are going to want them all. Therefore, the one that can do the best job of moving data between those tiers is going to be the winner.

Computerworld: You've talked about ViPR, but what's the reality of software-defined storage today? How far along are we? Virtualization at the compute layer is pretty well understood.

Tucci: First of all, it's much more difficult in storage. To load everything you're going to put in compute is pretty quick. If you have a 2-petabyte information base and something happens and you have to reload that, you're in trouble. That's a lot of time. So you've got to do things differently. It's just hard. So if this was a baseball game we're in the early innings. And everybody defines everything they do [differently]. I can say everything we do is software-defined storage and I would be correct because I just told you we're taking out the ASICs, we're trying to use as much common hardware as we can. Ergo, that's software-defined. But real software-defined is how do I work with any environment?

Computerworld: Exactly.

Tucci: So I could have a VMware environment. I could have an OpenStack environment. I could have a Hyper-V environment. I could have a bare-metal environment, I could use containers, whatever I want. But no matter what you have, you could still use software-defined storage technology. So I think that's one of the factors that I would use for my definition.

Behind that there's billions and billions of dollars going into array technology and some of it is good. You don't want to destroy that. You don't want to put something in the middle that makes everything behind it look like a white box, because then you're destroying IP that might be valuable. You want something that talks down and says: What capabilities can you do? And if you do it well, I'll just get out of the way. I'll just pass it right to you and you do it.

Computerworld: It's not intelligence talking to dumb. It's intelligence talking to intelligence.

Tucci: That's my point. You want to talk intelligently in a policy-based way to a lot of different environments, not just one environment. That gives you choice. Down here I want to talk to intelligent and non-intelligent devices because you want to use the IP and somebody does something really, really snappy in storage, you're saying: Well, I'll use it. I'll just pass the I/O straight through and give it to them. That is not easy, but that's the design construct that we used.

Computerworld: Look ahead to 2015. What should IT executives expect from EMC?

Tucci: Hopefully they'll see a lot more innovation. You're going to see us continue to focus on the software-defined data center. You're going to see us continue to focus on converged infrastructures, you're going to see us continue to focus on storage, we're going to continue to focus on putting less differentiation in hardware and more differentiation in software and, hopefully, from my point of view, it's all in the user experience, where customers can say we give them the best value, the best service, the best support.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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