“Atmos Inside”: EMC’s Grand Plan to Unify Public and Private Clouds

It may not be a coincidence that the companies most closely associated with the idea of cloud computing, such as Google, Amazon, and Rackspace, are known mainly as Web or Software-as-a-Service companies rather than as makers of actual computer hardware or shrink-wrapped software. After all, the whole idea of the cloud is to outsource your computing and storage needs to far-away computing utilities and their data centers, diminishing the need to own on-site hardware and systems.

But now there’s a second wave of cloud computing companies coming along—and some of them do sell their own physical products. One leader in that group is EMC (NYSE: EMC), the Hopkinton, MA-based maker of storage systems like the Symmetrix enterprise storage array. As EMC and other hardware and software makers ramp up their sales efforts, the dominant picture of the computing clouds as something you rent, but don’t own, may change. And if Mike Feinberg has his way, many clouds, both public and private, will bear a figurative sticker saying “Atmos Inside.”

“Most people would say that cloud computing is an Internet-delivered service,” says Feinberg, who was appointed as senior vice president of EMC’s cloud infrastructure group in 2008. “I think that’s a fallacy. In reality, it’s about infrastructure that scales up and down very quickly. At a certain scale, many companies will deploy this as part of their own infrastructure.”

atmos-online-logoAtmos, which Feinberg runs, is EMC’s family of cloud storage technologies. That includes Atmos Online, EMC’s own cloud storage service, which is an Internet-accessible, self-service, pay-as-you-go operation similar in most respects to Amazon’s EC2 and S3 services. But much more important to the company’s business is the Atmos software itself—the engine behind Atmos Online—which can be purchased outright and installed in any private data center, giving cloud-like storage capabilities to companies with lots of data to manage. (It’s as if Amazon were to take all of the software it’s written to run Amazon Web Services and boxed it up for sale, so that other companies could set up their own versions of EC2 and S3.)

While Atmos Online is a full-service cloud operation, it was conceived mainly as a proving ground for the Atmos software, says Feinberg, who laid out parts of the Atmos vision at Xconomy’s Cloud3 forum in December (his PowerPoint presentation is online here). “We purposely built Atmos Online to demonstrate to our engineers and customers that these technologies can be utilized to provide a service,” whether that service is being provided to users inside an organization or paying customers outside it, he says.

So it’s the shrink-wrapped version of Atmos that EMC sees as its flagship cloud product. In the long run, the company has little interest in becoming a leading cloud service provider, according to Feinberg: instead, it wants to be the company that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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