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Mon 29 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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Ten minutes with Jeff Nicks

Earlier this year, Mark Sutton spoke to EMC’s CTO and senior vice president, Jeff Nicks about the challenges facing the storage giant and how its VMWare subsidiary is tackling the fast-changing world of virtualisation.

Earlier this year, Mark Sutton spoke to EMC’s CTO and senior vice president, Jeff Nicks about the challenges facing the storage giant and how its VMWare subsidiary is tackling the fast-changing world of virtualisation.

EMC is building functionality into its EMC Smarts line to give better management of virtualised environments, partly because some companies have almost rushed into virtualisation and perhaps lost track of their virtual environments - are there other challenges ahead for virtualisation on your agenda?

I don't see so much ‘issues to be overcome', as opportunities to better integrate virtualisation capabilities into the overall IT management stack. There are opportunities at just about every level of where traditional IT technologies and tools fit today, and once you leverage virtualisation, there is an opportunity to leverage that capability throughout the stack; it is less of an issue that it is an opportunity to get seamless with other technologies around it.

On EMC's side there are several integration and interoperabilities to VMware that are being put into our product plans, and delivering into the market today — that is an ongoing set of activities.

For example when we talk about storage resource management, you want a seamless interaction between your server virtualisation capabilities to the storage platforms.

Integration there means that as you move images around, you want to be able to know that those hosts have in fact migrated and where they now are, so that we can track and continue to provide the performance and availability characteristics through the SAN fabric, to the storage arrays.

The mobility afforded by virtualisation technology such as VMware, has an opportunity to then be made part of co-ordinated migrations of other tiers of resources in the stack: storage migration and mobility, storage virtualisation, replication technology co-ordination.

Is that integration a big task - how far along is EMC in creating this seamless environment?

EMC is very serious about it, VMware is very serious about. There is a lot of work and new products and solutions coming out all the time.On EMC's side there are several integration and interoperabilities to VMware that are being put into our product plans, and delivering into the market today. That is an on going set of activities though, it is not a ‘Big Bang theory, it is about enhanced quality of service delivery through tighter integrations.

There is some perception that EMC has trouble scaling its solutions down - as CTO how are you going about creating solutions that are fit for the SMB and the mid-market?

It is just generally true that technologies that are built for the very large, high-end scale, or built with the ability to scale up or out, are difficult to scale down, if that wasn't part of the original design plan, but that is a hardware statement, not a software statement.

In a disruptive way, I would suggest that there is another way to reach down market, which is not by picking up the hardware and software stacks that provide enterprise class functionality, shrinking them and redeploying them into the home or SMB, rather a better way is to connect and create an on-ramp for the SMB, for the home, to connect to the power plant in the cloud.

We all have electricity in our homes, but we don't all have a power plant in our basement. The idea here is with the explosive growth in bandwidth and ubiquitous connectivity that we have today, it is now very possible, plausible and desirable to put the power plant in the cloud - the utility computing model - and connect the on-ramps to the home and to SMBs, to enterprise class functions that are deployed in the cloud.

This is why we have now created a cloud division, which is a combination of technologies, both at the storage level and personal information management capabilities which we have acquired from Pi Corporation. We are already delivering enterprise class services through this model of Software as a Service into the cloud with Mozy. Mozy started out as Mozy for home, now we have Mozy for enterprise, and this is a first in a general pattern that we are going to see.

EMC has started offer flash drives in high-end storage - how long before prices come down, or enterprises are willing to increase spending, to make flash drives widespread in enterprise storage?

I think it is going to be adopted very aggressively, and with consumption comes higher volumes and that creates economies of scale and prices will start to come down.As a result, both technologically, and in terms of improved densities and therefore greater cost efficiencies just in terms of storage per unit volume, we are going to continue to see improvements in flash technology.

We are already seeing increased investment in flash drive development and FABs, and that will increase supply and drive down prices.

From a customer value proposition, we are already aggressively positioning and integrating flash technology into our storage subsystems.

What we are particularly seeing already is that is appealing for applications that can take advantage of what is becoming a new tier of storage - a tier zero of storage. The combination of flash technology with traditional disk arrays is very compelling for workloads that are extremely dependent on response time and latency avoidance of I/O.

What issues have to be tackled for a broader uptake of storage in the cloud, particularly outside of the US?

I actually think that adoption of the SaaS model is going to be more rapid in other countries and emerging economies, because they haven't already invested heavily in the infrastructure foundations of the prior 50 years, so that they are not as wedded to leveraging those data centres in the same way.

I think that the next-gen IT economy is going to be a combination of business-owned datacentres for core competencies, in areas of direct value-add to the business, but then out-tasking to specialised service providers for the functionalities associated with support of IT, like backup, archive, data migration and disaster recovery.

Those are capabilities that if they can be offered through service delivery as opposed to having to host them all in the datacentre of the customer environment, that is going to be a very attractive model.

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