After spending the majority of 2016 meeting and collaborating with my new DELL Technologies colleagues, two clear customer benefits began to emerge:
- Decades of experience between EMC and Dell will result in economic benefits to customers.
- Dell Technologies will enable customers to innovate in the face of digital disruption.
In this post I'd like to take a look at the first benefit.
Historically, both EMC and DELL started in the 1980s as change agents within the simple system architecture shown below.
The IT architecture pictured above was small enough to sit on a table. Applications were compiled to run directly on a CPU. These applications leveraged local memory and a local data port to move data back and forth to a spinning disk drive. As the application sent data to the spinning disk (represented by the values "1', "2", "3", and "4"), the mechanical disk would go through a series of electro-mechanical movements (head bumps, seeks, rotational latency, etc) to persistently store those data values.
Before the growth of DELL and EMC, the application shown above began to outpace the IT architecture in two fundamental ways:
- Performance: spinning disk performance could not keep up with advances in CPU technology (e.g. chip performance doubling as part of Moore's Law).
- Capacity: applications began to generate data that exceeded the space available on one physical disk drive.
As applications became the "business lifeblood" of every company, the race was on for tech innovators to introduce new products that solved these two problems. The winning innovators would grow and thrive in the decades to come. Both DELL and EMC entered into these new markets, but their innovation starting points and innovation paths were different.
EMC: Right To Left
EMC's initial breakthrough was to begin at the physical disk layer and (over time) innovate in the direction of the application (from the right hand side of the diagram to the left). EMC built cabinets that aggregated multiple disk drives (RAID) to appear as faster, bigger physical disks (thus solving the two application challenges described above). As these systems (known today [and then] as VMAX [Symmetrix] and VNX [Clariion]) became more and more mission critical, the applications once again outpaced them with a new requirement:
3. RAS: Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability. Customers expected these systems to be always on, always available, and fixed quickly.
This requirement led to new innovations like snap copy and remote mirroring. As storage technologies were more widely deployed, EMC began moving to the left. Some examples include:
- Network: Storage Area Networks (SANs), Connectrix, VPLEX, VMware NSX
- Server: Server virtualization (VMware) and Multi-Pathing (PowerPath)
- Security: Authentication, Authorization, Governance, and Encryption (RSA)
- Backup and Recovery: Data protection (Legato)
In other words, EMC had a technology portfolio that spanned the entire system, from the application, all the way down to the persistent bits on media, and everything in between. The company began integrating all of these components together into converged platforms.
DELL: Left to Right
My DELL Technologies colleague and Senior Fellow Robert Hormuth has pointed out that storage systems had long innovation cycles. The first RAID systems, for example, took several years to build. Technologists implementing solutions at the server level did not have the luxury to wait around for storage to get faster. So they began to innovate at the CPU level.
Dell started as a PC company, but soon evolved into building the world class server platforms to host the next generation of applications. It provided a foundation for the CLIENT-SERVER ERA with computing that ran all the way from the edge and into the data center. With the acquisition of Force10 networking, it moved from left to right to provide the connectivity infrastructure between applications running on servers and storage platforms. It further moved left-to-right by introducing DELL storage technologies. With the evolving needs of applications, Dell innovated further to drive the movement towards software defined everything, which led to new storage (SDS) and network (SDN) architectures that created software based services running on standard server based compute infrastructure. It also provides cloud compute platforms, hyperscale platforms, and converged / hyper-converged solutions that tie applications, compute, networking, and storage into standardized building blocks for deployment at scale. The company also invested in security technology and services.
Dell today provides infrastructure for running applications, storage and networking services all the way from small/medium businesses to large enterprises and hyperscale environments. Its innovations are also driving standard compute platforms into future big data in-memory analytics, scale-out software defined architectures, HPC platforms, machine learning / deep learning, and IoT / Fog Computing.
In other words, Dell has built a left-to-right technology portfolio that spans applications all the way from the edge, to data center, and to the cloud to run applications at scale.
The EMC and DELL Technology Stack
As DELL and EMC innovated towards each other for decades, applications continued their relentless march of outpacing the underlying infrastructure. The spider chart below highlights how application requirements have evolved from the 80s and 90s (an instructional website about application workload requirements, and their depiction via spider charts, can be found here).
At every turn in the road, DELL and EMC have created infrastructure components that meet the requirements of all of the applications that have "grown up" during the client/server era. The depth of DELL and EMC's combined stacks, depicted below, highlights the breadth of the two portfolios, even as applications are often located at a great distance away from the data they are generating.
EMC's storage, network, server, and application assets are deployed at multiple levels within this stack. DELL's storage, network, and server assets are also deployed at multiple levels within this stack. Both companies possess assets that secure and protect throughout different portions of the stack.
Between the two companies, there are decades of technology modernization which continues to introduce efficiency and cost improvements. If I were to graphically depict this reality in terms of the rise of the Client/Server era (and the entry into the 3rd platform computing era), it would look like this:
DELL Technologies and the Application Tipping Point
Why merge the two companies? Because applications outpace infrastructure. After 30 years of traditional applications running successfully on client/server infrastructures, the newest forms of applications (e.g. cloud-native, 12-factor) don't always run well on client-server architectures. As two separate companies, DELL and EMC were not best positioned to help the industry to (a) run these new applications while (b) simultaneously reducing costs and driving efficiency into current deployments.
As one company, now they are.
Which brings us to the second thing you need to know about Dell Technologies: innovation in the face of digital disruption. This innovation will take the form of extracting the maximum amount of business value out of data. My next post will focus on how the Dell Technologies portfolio is uniquely positioned to treat data as a capital asset.
Special thanks to Gaurav Chawla for brainstorming these themes with me.
Dell Technologies Fellow