Virtualized Management and Software-defined Services: EMC’s “Third Platform” Strategy

EMC recently produced a webcast entitled “Mind the Gap – A Technical Discussion on the Journey to the Third Platform” in which EMC described its progress in helping its clients move to the “Third Platform” (a term originally coined by IDC to describe a new phase of IT evolution).  Nestled into this webcast was a discussion of new EMC software-defined and virtualized storage management offerings.

Our key takeaway from this webcast is that EMC is showing great progress in building out a software-defined strategy – and is complementing that strategy with heterogeneous physical and virtualized storage management.  For years we have criticized EMC for being “too proprietary” – but no longer.  The company is now strategically committed to playing nicely in the heterogeneous public and private cloud environments of the future.  But we do have one caveat: we applaud EMC for building a heterogeneous storage environment for  NetApp and HDS (soon) – but we still want to see other vendors’ storage (such as the storage products of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell) also supported in the future.

The Platform Discussion

The way that EMC sees it, the “First Platform” in IT evolution refers to the age of mainframes and minicomputers and computer terminals. The “Second Platform” is characterized by distributed client/server computing environments.  And the “Third Platform” is comprised of cloud computing, highly virtualized environments, big data analytics, and massive scale.

What EMC is trying to do strategically is align its products and services to serve the needs of Third Platform customers.  According to EMC, first and foremost, customers want choice – they want to be able to choose the products that they need to address a specific business requirement without being locked in to a particular vendor or technology.  Second, in spite of data growth and increasing complexity, customers nonetheless want to continue to drive down costs. Lastly, customers want to chart a gradual path to the Third Platform. They don’t want a “rip and replace”, rather they want to work with existing investments in IT as they make their way to the Third Platform.

The Product Discussion

In addition to discussing its Third Platform strategy, EMC also took this occasion to announce product enhancements to its EMC ViPR 1.1 as well as its EMC Storage Resource Management (SRM) Suite 3.0.   These products dovetail nicely with EMC’s Third Platform strategy, particularly when used together. EMC ViPR is EMC’s platform for software-defined storage that abstracts the storage control plane from the data plane for easier, more flexible management.  It is a software-only solution that supports heterogeneous storage including EMC and NetApp today and HDS and others in the future.  When used with SRM, customers can deploy an EMC management framework across both traditional and software-defined environments with ViPR managing storage at a virtual level and SRM supporting both virtual and physical storage for easier problem diagnosis.

New in ViPR 1.1 is a Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) data service for data analytics that will enable specific pieces of data to be analyzed as well as support for EMC Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF) for automated remote replication. ViPR 1.1 is also available as a free download for non-production use so ISVs have access to the open APIs. A ViPR community website provides access to the download, documentation, FAQs and on-line training.

EMC SRM 3.0 has a new interface  and combines three separate modules to a single lightweight platform. SRM has also added support for EMC Data Protection Advisor and Virtual Instruments’ Virtual Wisdom SAN monitoring,

Both products are available now.

Also of interest in EMC’s webcast was a discussion of the company’s Project Nile, an initiative to provide web-scale storage in a similar model to Amazon, Azure and Google (on-demand, self-service, per GB pricing) but at a lower price point and within the data center. According to EMC, the goal is to provide the convenience of the public cloud but with private control, security and reliability. No details yet on availability.

Summary

From our perspective, EMC has embraced the idea of multi-vendor storage with support of NetApp and specific plans for HDS, in order to offer heterogeneous and hardware-independent solutions to their customers.  In years gone by, EMC was not exactly “heterogeneously friendly” – but we are now seeing a distinct shift in the company’s heterogeneous storage outlook.  Having said this, as mentioned previously, we still want to see other vendors’ storage supported by EMC – particularly the storage offerings of IBM and Hewlett-Packard.  If this happens, we will permanently withdraw our somewhat jaundiced view of EMC as a proprietary storage company.

As for EMC’s Third Platform – we think it is “spot on” because it is based on today’s customer requirements: choice, lower cost, and investment protection.  These new announcements help EMC get its customers further down the Third Platform path.

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