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EMC Takes on Storage Upstarts and Amazon’s Gigantic Cloud

May 2, 2016, 4:00 PM UTC
EMC CEO Joseph Tucci and Dell CEO Michael Dell.
EMC CEO Joseph Tucci and Dell CEO Michael Dell.
Photographs by Getty Images

Unless something completely crazy happens, this week will mark the final EMC World conference to be hosted by an independent EMC. Dell’s planned $59 billion acquisition of EMC (as well as VMware (VMW) and other satellite companies) should be complete within months—October at the latest. EMC shareholders will be voting on the deal later this month or next.

That means EMC World keynote speakers will include not only the usual suspects—EMC (EMC) chairman and CEO Joe Tucci along with his top lieutenants Jeremy Burton, David Goulden, and Rodney Rogers—but also Dell co-founder and CEO Michael Dell, who’s been attending an awful lot of EMC functions lately. VMware chief executive Pat Gelsinger, interestingly, will not speak. Gelsinger was a big presence last year.

Then, of course, there will also be the usual spate of product announcements as EMC seeks to retain its leadership in data storage, fending off upstarts like Pure Storage (PSTG) and Nimble (NMBL) on the one hand, while it also seeks to prove its relevance in the emerging cloud computing era as Amazon (AMZN) Web Services rents out computing capability, storage, and networking from a massive bank of shared infrastructure to companies of all sizes.

Read More: Here’s What Still Bugs Some People about the Dell-EMC Deal

On the first front, EMC will announce a new all-flash storage array called Unity that it says can cost as little as $18,000. Flash or solid-state storage is faster than traditional “spinning disk” storage, but it still carries a price premium that EMC says it’s eroding here. (The Unity moniker will replace EMC’s existing VNX brand.)

Unity takes aim at all-flash storage makers Pure and Nimble. EMC already offers higher-priced XtremIO and VMAX flash arrays, which EMC says have done very well. “But neither of them get to below the $80,0000 or $100,000 mark. Unity gets us to a segment of the market with all-flash where we had no offering before,” said Jeremy Burton, president of EMC products and marketing.

On the cloud front, EMC will tout a new Virtustream Storage Cloud that will act as a huge backend storage safe for the big companies using EMC’s products on premises. EMC bought Virtustream and its big-business focused cloud business for $1.2 billion just about a year ago.

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“When we acquired Virtustream, it was for customers with tier one, mission-critical applications like SAP (SAP) and that continues to be our focus,” Burton told Fortune in advance of EMC World.

EMC is segmenting the cloud market to focus on big Fortune 500 companies, not the startups that helped build Amazon Web Services into the juggernaut it’s become over the past 10 years.

This is not a broad effort “where we throw out something like EC2, S3 or EBS and hope developers come. That is not our play,” Burton stressed. To translate, EC2 is Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud computing service, S3 is its Simple Storage Service, and EBS is Elastic Block Storage.

“We have to look at where and how we’re capable of building a business in public cloud for these tier one applications,” Burton explained.

To be clear, when companies mention mission critical or tier one applications, they mean the applications that they absolutely rely on to survive. They include the transaction systems, accounting, inventory, and databases where, if something runs goes awry, the business can actually stop functioning.

EMC is pitching the new Virtustream Storage Cloud as an enterprise-class cloud for companies that already using EMC gear and services, like data deduplication software in house but still need a safe, big place to store data.

For more about the EMC-Dell merger, watch:

Clearly EMC, like every other IT incumbent, has one nervous eye on Amazon Web Services, the public cloud giant that became a huge success largely because software developers saw it as a cheap, easy way to get the resources they need to build and test their products.

But over the past few years, more developers working at big companies and even C-level execs at those corporations see AWS as a viable option for at least some of their corporate data and applications. That spells trouble for companies like EMC, Oracle (ORCL), IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT) and the rest.


This story was updated at 1:20 p.m. EDT to reflect that the current value of the Dell-EMC deal is $59 billion and to note that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger will not speak at EMC World.