I missed the EMC earnings call the other day. Too bad, I heard it was pretty well received ;-)
I did read the transcript, and I noticed that Joe Tucci made an important point that I think reflects the evolution of the storage business, and -- more broadly -- all sorts of technology innovation.
And it's been a useful way to frame the discussion, both internally and externally.
When you're a smaller IT vendor, you've got to find one thing that you do really really well, and try and make it really really important to your very first customers, and -- hopefully -- you'll be able to build a customer base (and hopefully a viable business) before the money runs or competitors move in.
We see it all the time in the storage industry. Thin provisioning. Data deduplication. Fast provisioning. MAID. Etc. etc. etc.
Now, if I was a small technology startup, that's what I would do, since that's logically the only option available to me and my small company. Make a big bet on a single thing, and hope it pays off. And sometimes it does, although the odds aren't especially attractive.
But look at it from a customer perspective.
Customers Want Products With Features, Not A Product With A Feature
Let's just say that part of your environment needed iSCSI, and part of your environment needed thin provisioning, and part of you environment needed different flavors of dedupe, and MAID, and so on.
You'd probably be loathe to put in one small-vendor-product for each feature you wanted. Expensive, hard to manage, harder to support, etc.
Or imagine that -- surprise -- you might need TWO features at the same time? Like dedupe and MAID?
What you'd like to have is a product platform that adds more features over time -- and not have to buy a different product (from a different vendor) every time you've figured out you need something new.
Let's take our analogy to cell phones for a moment.
Imagine you carried one phone that made calls, another one that had a camera, another one that did email well, another one that had a great web browser, another that did media well, and so on.
You'd have a phone in every pocket. And more power adaptor wall warts than you could handle. An dif something rang, you'd spend at least 5 minutes trying to figure out which device was making which noise.
The phone device guys get that. IT vendors might take a lesson from this as well.
During the call, Joe was very specific about additional features that people could expect to see in EMC storage platforms in the very near future.
And the point he was making (I think) was simple: features are more valuable and useful when they're part of a product platform, as opposed to standalone widgets.
Now, EMC had done its fair share of feature innovation. But we haven't been the first to invent everything. (Although, if you listen to IBM enough, it's clear they most certainly have invented most everything that is useful in IT ;-).
I couldn't agree more with Joe's point.
But It's Not Just Storage ...
Let's take security for a moment. Which would you rather have?
A bunch of security products. Or products with security features?
I'd argue that the industry (and EMC) is heading in the second direction, and not the first. This year, you saw a few of our platforms come out with security features (e.g. DMX). They weren't standalone security products.
My favorite example is watching what's happening to Decru and NeoScale. Most customers have realized that, before long, encryption will be a feature in the HBA, switch, array, etc. Why buy a special-purpose applicance?
Yes, all the security products need to work together -- that much is clear -- but that's a separate discussion.
Networking: networking products, or products with networking features?
The list goes on.
Something To Think About
I like innovation. I like small, scrappy entrepeneurial companies with great ideas. The more, the better. It's good for customers, and it's good for the industry.
But every time I see some small company getting attention over some feature they've brought to market, a part of me is saddened by the ultimate reality that it's highly unlikely they'll make it alone.
They'll either run out of money, be bought, or have an aggressive (larger) competitor move in by simply adding a feature to an existing product.
There will be exceptions, to be sure, but the few will be overwhelmed by the many.