"There are some folks running around Las Vegas now putting up signs and talking about how they're better than EMC and... it's like poking a bear: if you poke a sleeping bear, eventually it wakes up. Let me tell you something: the bear is awake," said EMC's senior vice president for global sales Bill Scannell in a bullish address to partners at the vendor's Global Partner Summit (GPS) in Las Vegas.
Ambitious startups threatening to overthrow the market incumbent is nothing new, particularly in the storage industry where newbies pop up at rapid speed. But from the second Pure Storage began making serious noise last year, its campaign against EMC - and only EMC - has been particularly fierce.
The startup claims to have turned up its nose at numerous offers to buy the firm in a bid to challenge the storage giant and said it fires up its sales team by saying the remaining 70 per cent market share not snapped up by its rival is theirs for the taking. Following its recent aggression, Pure has found itself embroiled in a legal battle with EMC after the vendor accused one of its former staff of defecting to Pure and taking confidential information with him. Undeterred by the litigation, Pure boldly claimed the legal proceedings meant it scored some great publicity. To say the competition between the duo is ferocious would be an understatement.
But more often than not, Pure's anti-EMC campaign has prompted nothing but a steely silence from EMC, which frequently takes the moral high ground and issues simple "no comment" statements to the press when baited by Pure. But at its EMC World event in Vegas - which was gatecrashed by Pure, which plastered adverts all over the city and even held rival events during the week - the vendor broke its silence and fought back.
Flash of rage
At a partner Q&A session at the EMC World GPS, one reseller, who chose not to introduce himself by name, candidly told EMC's top directors that the channel was getting caught cold by the rise of startups such as Pure Storage and demanded the firm explain itself.
In a similar way to how nobody in Harry Potter's wizard world can utter the evil Lord Voldemort's name for fear of summoning him, partners and execs alike coyly referred to Pure Storage as "the orange" logo or company, referring to the colour of its branding.
"Hyper-converged and all-flash array [vendors] - these guys are kicking our butts," said the reseller. "It seems like EMC has been caught flat-footed in the past year [compared with] the orange logo - we know who that is.
"It seems like when EMC finally has an answer, they're demanding 50 per cent higher price and it's tough to sell. It's been a tough year. Every day we hear about a new startup and they're getting customers' attention. We're going out to fight with what we know is a better story but we're not always winning because of someone else out there."
In response to the partners' grilling in the Q&A, EMC's Scannell defended the firm and said when customers buy EMC, they get more bang for their buck.
"Some of the startups out of the gate now, their products are not going to make it," he said. "Look at Violin - they had great momentum last year but now, not so much. You'll see the same with ‘the orange company' - they have some real flaws in their design. We don't have those flaws.
"Make no bones about it: the competition will always want to come in and undercut EMC regardless of what price we're at. We have to sell the value of our offering and demand some type of premium, otherwise we commoditise the market."
When EMC launched its all-flash product XtremIO last autumn, startup rivals such as Pure and X-IO poured scorn on the offering and the former even went so far as to claim that EMC had copied its technology. But despite the bad feeling, the product managed to become market leader in the space within the first three months of its existence.
"We will continue that momentum into this year and when we get into Q3, we're going to announce a whole host of additional features and functions which will drive our price down to a point where we are extremely competitive," added Scannell.
Not content with simply talking the talk on flash, EMC made some tangible commitments to the technology which met an excited reception from the thousands of attendees who packed into EMC Information Infrastructure's chief executive David Goulden's keynote address.
The firm unveiled its intention to acquire flash firm DSSD in a transaction that is expected to close in the second quarter. The storage giant claimed its latest buy, for an undisclosed sum, will help its customers get their heads around social, mobile, cloud and big data tech.
Goulden (pictured, right) also got into the Vegas spirit by announcing an XtremIO guarantee which offers the first customer to find better-performing technology than the product a $1m (£590,000) jackpot.
He showed the audience real customer data which compared EMC's performance to that of a rival startup - tellingly represented in orange - whose performance slowed when it filled up with data.
"The competitive option is not always on; it is not very impressive," Goulden said, before walking into the centre of the auditorium to unveil an XtremIO array filled with $1m in cash to an excited audience.
Later on during a media Q&A session, Goulden told CRN that he had battled the legal and finance teams to secure the guarantee but insisted he was "not worried about paying it".
The announcement went down well with attendees who cheered the news, but Quocirca's Clive Longbottom - who was at the event - said the guarantee meant more to EMC for bragging rights than it would to a customer as a genuine warranty.
"If an organisation goes for an EMC solution based on [the guarantee alone] then they are paying for an enterprise-class storage array at a very expensive rate. If it does go down, they will have lost a hell of a lot more than the $1m [payout]," he said. "Anyone who goes for it just on that needs their heads examining.
"It's obviously a PR stunt - and a good one - but if it goes wrong and a customer can claim it, it would do some horrendous brand damage for EMC."
Unsurprisingly, Pure Storage agreed, labelling the deal a "contest" rather than a guarantee.
The firm's vice president for products Matt Kixmoeller took to the company blog and outlined ways in which he believed customers can claim the $1m jackpot.
"Calling the programme a ‘guarantee' is a bit of a misnomer, as the programme doesn't provide any real guarantee of customer success with flash in their environment, rather it is a contest to see if any customer, in a fixed period of time, can find a workload which causes XtremIO's inline deduplication to function counter to its simple design," he said.
"Most people see this contest for what it is - a not-so-subtle FUD attempt to divert attention away from the real question around flash data-reduction technologies: which all-flash array provides the most-effective data reduction?"
War of words
The EMC vs Pure Storage battle has raged for more than a year now, and here are some of the best examples of fighting talk we've seen
from the duo.
Pure Storage's chief executive Scott Dietzen: "For EMC customers and partners, if you want to see what XtremIO is likely to look like tomorrow, check out Pure Storage today."
EMC's global sales boss Bill Scannell: "'The orange company' - they have some real flaws in their design. We don't
have those flaws."
Pure Storage, in an advert encouraging EMC World attendees to come to one of its rival Las Vegas events: "Take a break from EMC World and see what's next from Pure Storage. Drop by next door to munch great food that doesn't come in a box, sip the finest bourbons Vegas has to offer, recharge both your body and your battery [and] access one-to-one executive briefings where you'll see the FlashArray's latest and greatest."
EMC, in a court filing against Pure in which it claims its staff defected and took business-critical information with them: "The action is part of a larger drama unfolding between EMC and various of its former employees, each of whom have resigned from EMC to join direct competitor Pure Storage and each of whom have wrongfully taken confidential and competitively sensitive EMC materials with them upon joining Pure Storage."
Scott Dietzen: "There have been customers who have
come to us and said ‘you're the ones making [EMC] nervous; there must be something you're up to and we'd like to learn more'."
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