EMC Soaring Into the Cloud (Computing)—the Question is When, Not If

2/15/08Follow @bbuderi

Cloud computing has put the wind in the IT industry’s sails lately. It seems that there are as many interpretations of what the term means as there are clouds in the sky. But basically it’s the idea that truly large-scale computing power—from software applications to storage and information management services—will exist out there on the Internet somewhere, and that tapping into the cloud will become the way of the future, whether it be for big enterprises or individuals on their PCs. The concept evokes many buzz phrases from the past—think utility computing, ubiquitous computing, and autonomic computing—ideas that go back some 30 years or so. And those phrases evoke some big names in IT, from Xerox to IBM to Microsoft, Sun, and, more recently, Amazon and Google. Lately, though, there have been more than a few signs that a home-grown New England firm—EMC (NYSE:EMC)— has also set its sights on the cloud.

The most recent indication of the Hopkinton, MA-based company’s interest in cloud computing came on Wednesday, when Reuters quoted an SAP executive as saying EMC was setting up a data hosting service called EMC Cloud, and that the German business management software maker’s products would be offered on it. EMC has declined to comment specifically on its cloud plans. But judging from comments by CEO Joe Tucci and blog posts by VP Chuck Hollis, there’s little doubt that a big announcement is on the way. EMC’s recent acquisition of Berkeley Data Systems and its Mozy online backup service for personal computers—and its transformation of Mozy into an enterprise-scale offering— was one aspect of its migration to the clouds. But it was only the beginning.

Take Tucci’s comments about cloud computing, which he uses interchangeably with the term “Web 2.0 computing,” at EMC’s Innovation Day last November (which we were the only ones to cover).

The EMC CEO showed a slide about how data is being created and stored these days: “This is an important slide,” he said. “What this says…is that 70 percent of the information is created by individuals, but 85 percent of that information will be managed in big, safe information repositories in the Internet ‘sky,’ so to speak. We’re [talking] cloud computing, Web 2.0 computing.” He went on, “I believe this slide. It dictates a lot of our strategy, and how we’re going to apply some of the innovation.”

Tucci said that corporations would also be storing and managing more data in the cloud, noting, “It’s a very good trend for us. It gives us the opportunity to work on both sides.” What that means, I’m pretty certain, is that EMC plans to act as a provider of cloud computing infrastructure to companies like telcos and Internet service providers—and also to use the cloud to serve up centralized “Software as a Service” (Saas) applications like Mozy. That’s why, as leading EMC execs have essentially told me, Mozy is just the opening salvo in EMC’s SaaS/cloud strategy.

EMC hasn’t said exactly when it will formally unveil its cloud strategy, but you can bet it will be this year, and maybe in the first half of this year. Tucci said at last month’s earnings call that
“2008 will mark EMC’s entry into the rapidly growing Web 2.0 storage market.” He spoke particularly of both a hardware product—which has been code-named Hulk. This, apparently, would be a storage system that allows for storing, archiving, and recovery of massive amounts of active digital media content—rich media-type things on the petabyte scale. And he said that EMC would also be launching data management software (which has been code-named Maui) for this system. Traditionally, managing such massive amounts of data might have taken scores of people. From reading what’s out there already, and from what our sources tell us, Hulk and Maui will make this largely automatic—requiring only a few people to manage.

More clues about EMC’s cloud computing efforts are scattered here and there. TechWorld had a nice piece about all this last month. And EMC’s Hollis has blogged about it fairly extensively.

One post from last October was called, “Is There A Cloud In Your Future?” in which Hollis says: “I’m starting to see clouds everywhere…On a personal level, I’d like to live as a user of these clouds. Generally speaking, I don’t want to own IT, I want to use it.”

A more extensive look at cloud computing came in January. Here are some selected excerpts:

Cloud Storage Is Massive

Very massive. We’re routinely encountering new requirements where terms like “gigabyte” and “terabyte” are not useful, the discussion starts at “many petabytes” and goes up from there.

We tend to think of all this stuff sitting in a data center somewhere, but for this model, it just doesn’t work. Nobody can afford a single data center that’s large enough to put all this stuff into (no, not even Google). More importantly, no one can afford the network pipes that’ll be needed in a single place to feed everything into, or out of.

No, what you’ll need is the ability to place these devices in locations around the world, and have them operate as a single entity: a single global name space, and—more importantly—the ability to ingest content from anywhere, and move content to popular places depending on traffic and interest.

Cloud Storage Is Autonomous

If you can imagine many petabytes with billions of objects in hundreds of locations and millions of users, this means that management is an entirely unique proposition.

The environment must be self-tuning, and automatically react to surges in demand. It must be self-healing and self-correcting at a massive scale—like the internet, no single scenario of failures can bring it down.

Cloud Storage Is Universal

Thinking browser-oriented stuff is way too limiting, I think. Give yourself some time and fully ponder all the different ways information could be gathered and distributed on a massive, global scale, and you’ll start to realize the enormity of the appeal.

That should give us a good clue about EMC’s view of the clouds.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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