When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519, he ordered his men to scuttle their ships. With no escape route, the troops knew they had two choices – conquer, or be killed – so the story goes. Almost 500 years later, the story is still told (and likely embellished) by business strategists and motivational speakers, urging people to go past the point of no return in order to succeed. This is exactly the sort of attitude a senior EMC bigwig claims the firm had to adopt when it came to its flash strategy over the past few years.
In 2013, the storage market was filled with aggressive flash start-ups, boasting about their success with all-flash technology which at the time was new for a number of customers. Towards the end of that year, EMC launched its all-flash XtremIO product, looking to silence critics who said the firm was too slow to market with the technology. At the time, EMC came out fighting, offering a $1m performance guarantee for customers, and striking back at its competitors with equal levels of sass.
Although XtremIO is now a market leader, VCE president and former EMC systems engineers boss Chad Sakac admitted moving to flash was a testing time for his firm.
On his personal blog, which he stresses does not necessarily reflect the view of his employer, Sakac said the company had to channel its inner Cortés.
"EMC absolutely was undergoing the 'innovator's dilemma' where your leadership means that internal forces conspire – not out of maliciousness – to defend the things that got you to your current successful position," he said on the blog. "This is one of the points where high-tech companies adapt or die, and this is not easy. We've collectively navigated it several times – VMware is navigating it – every successful thing (people and companies) need to navigate it many times over their life. And when you don't, you are diminished – sometimes to the point of irrelevance. So what do you do? You burn the boats.
"When we pivoted our R&D on VMAX towards VMAX all-flash, we were burning the boats. When we shifted our R&D on Unity we were burning the boats. When we doubled down on XtremIO, we were burning the boats.
"EMC absolutely was undergoing the 'innovator's dilemma' where your leadership means that internal forces conspire – not out of maliciousness – to defend the things that got you to your current successful position"
"XtremIO has been so successful that our competitors have resorted to spreading rumours that we would end-of-life it. Um, let's see. Should we end-of-life the most successful product in the fastest-growing revenue category where we are the leader? That makes perfect sense, only if you're a competitor."
Despite EMC's maintaining a similar stranglehold on the all-flash market as it does in the overall storage space, other firms have managed to make positive manoeuvres in the space. In recent years, NetApp faced criticism for being too slow off the mark on flash, more so even than EMC which took stick for the same thing. In the face of this criticism, last year NetApp snapped up all-flash player SolidFire and has talked up its position in the space ever since, boasting IDC figures which position it in second place in the all-flash market.
Long-standing NetApp partner ANS Group has since expanded its offering to include the SolidFire technology. ANS' CTO Andy Barrow said the move means NetApp can excel in flash, but not at the detriment of its other offerings.
"Their positioning is quite nice – they are not cannibalising their existing customer base," he said. "They are going after particular people with particular requirements. We thought it was a brilliant acquisition. SolidFire was one of the vendors which was looking like it would be acquired by someone big because of the capability of the technology.
"This more than answers the criticism and I think the criticism was overrated, really. A lot of it was marketing and... I thought the market was a bit harsh. I certainly think with George Kurian coming in, it has changed the thinking internally. They were basking in glory for years and they owned the market and did really well."
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