EMC's CEO Discusses Storage and E-commerce

With the growth of e-commerce, loads of data are being generated at immeasurable rates. With all this data, there arises the need for storage, and from that need new storage trends are emerging.

Tom Sullivan, ENT's features editor, spoke with Mike Ruettgers, CEO of EMC Corp., about the role of storage in e-commerce, the part that Windows 2000 plays, and other current trends.

What role does storage play in a company's e-commerce strategy?

There’s an old Romanian folk saying that says, if you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. As a storage company we think the basis of any e-commerce platform is the information in storage. You want to be able to collect transactions, then you want to be able to look at transactions in data warehouses so you can understand how to better serve customers or get more out of customers. Eventually, you want to use that to increase the relationship you have with your customers. All of that is built around information, and information has to be available all the time.

Microsoft is billing Windows 2000 as an e-commerce platform, and also that storage is a feature of the OS. How are you recommending that your customers factor Windows 2000 into storage infrastructure purchasing decisions?

Microsoft, Unisys, and EMC demonstrated a very, very large NT/SQL-based data warehousing solution with Compaq last year. We showed a 6 TB database. I think you can only get that with the combination of EMC technology with Windows NT/2000 to get systems that large that will stay up for it, that large that you can get pretty rapid answers to queries -- that kind of thing. That’s the kind of combination of Microsoft’s efforts and EMC’s efforts that we’ll offer.

Moving forward, will we partner with companies that offer other operating systems on solutions such as the Data Center of the Next Millennium, or will we be strictly Windows-based?

Every customer that I am aware of has multiple operating systems. Nobody has a homogeneous environment today. So for the good of our customers, we’ll continue to support multiple operating systems.

SAN adoption has been slow due to a lack of standards. What is your vision for storage technology and standards two years from now?

I think we are making a lot more progress on standards in this space than prior generations of technology. EMC and a number of other companies put together the Fibre Alliance to accelerate the adoption of standards. Those standards controlled by the Fibre Alliance have been accepted by SNIA, which is the Storage Networking Industry Association, so at least we have an agreement on standards. It is very unusual in a technology rollout to have agreed to these standards as early as we have. I believe it is starting to accelerate, and I have seen articles where other people said so. People are really investing in these things now.

How are you telling customers to plan for both network attached storage (NAS) and SAN in their networks?

Almost everybody either uses SAN or architecturally can use SAN. Not everybody can use network-attached storage. We see that they are complimentary to each other, but probably on a ratio of something like 20-to-1. We’ve tried to be indifferent and to focus on what customers are trying to do. For those customers that want to deploy both of them, we’ll deploy both of them. For customers that want one or the other, we’re happy to support them, too.

Will SAN use Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet, or both?

In the near term, it will be Fibre Channel. Over time they’ll probably use both, but it’s very, very early to speculate on whether there’s a fission in the marketplace of one versus the other.

How does EMC plan to participate in the Linux phenomenon?

We’re watching it like everybody else is. We’re working to make sure that we can support it as customers want to go in that direction. It’s similar to our NT fashion. Up until the middle of 1995, almost nobody was thinking about writing mission-critical systems on NT. We started running into people that wanted to do that, so right away we stared to support it. We’ve seen the same thing here.

Analysts say that the next wave of storage is not monolithic disk subsystems or even smaller disks, but rather flash cards and small electronic storage devices. Will EMC participate in this new storage form factor?

I think it's better left to other companies. But one of the things that you’ll still want is portable disposable information. In other words, you might get today’s newspaper on it, then you’ll throw it away tomorrow. You won’t keep a year’s worth of newspapers. You’ll only want the latest information in those small appliances. We’ll still be storing all of this existing stuff for customers.