EMC Creates Cloud Computing Division, Hires Former Microsoft Exec to Lead It; Oh, They Bought His Startup, Too

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round-the-clock access to personal information by “replicating it across machines and devices,” according to the company’s site, with replicas residing on users’ own devices or “automatically set up on Pi hosting services providing 24×7 high-speed availability and strong security.” Sure sounds like the cloud to me.

EMC surely wanted someone with Maritz’s passion and breadth of vision to lead its cloud computing effort. But there’s reason to believe that the company also feels some sympathy with Maritz’s focus on individuals (as opposed to the organizations EMC is accustomed to serving). When EMC’s public relations officials sent us their press release today, they said the company wouldn’t have much more to say, beyond the content of the release. But they did point us toward a personal blog post by Chuck Hollis, EMC’s vice president of technology alliances and a 12-year veteran of the company. And Hollis has a great deal to say, some of it pretty remarkable, given EMC’s history as a company focused on expensive storage hardware for big companies.

“While most of the discussion around information management has been in the context of corporations and organizations,” Hollis writes, “the bet here is that the discussion will evolve into a new focus around us as individuals in the information society. And, let me be clear, we’re all going to want to manage—and control—our digital lives. [Emphasis in original.] Enter Pi Corporation.”

Hollis goes on:

“I’ve been dropping hints like crazy that something was up in this space, but I guess now it’s pretty obvious—we’re taking this shift in the industry very, very seriously. This ain’t just PowerPoint talking here….We’re saying that success in this new space will require a very different technology base—and a business model—very unlike other parts of the traditional IT landscape.”

Hollis’s argument is that even beyond Pi, Mozy, and the Fortress platform, EMC has a range of products relating to the vision of cloud-based personal information management, such as home storage based on EMC’s LifeLine offering, data security resting on RSA’s encryption technology, and collaborative workflows built around the company’s Documentum software.

“Like a diamond being set into a ring by an expert jeweler, Pi is potentially the centerpiece of a very intriguing strategic play,” Hollis concludes. “At the heart of it, EMC is all about information. And in a world where the majority of information is being created by individuals, we think what’s important is going to change.” [Again, the italics are in the original.]

So, what EMC is telling us, though they’re still being a bit coy and indirect about it, is that the world should be adjusting its picture of the company. No doubt, it will continue to sell networked storage devices, server virtualization software, content management systems, and data protection software, and it will continue to work with lots of Fortune-1000-caliber customers. But it also wants to be one of the companies that ushers in the era of personal cloud computing.

And when you think about it, who’s really out there articulating the same vision? Microsoft? Too busy getting Vista to work on PCs. Yahoo? Too busy trying to avoid assimilation by Microsoft. IBM? Its vision of “autonomous computing” was cool, but it seems focused today on becoming the world’s main vendor of IT consulting services and business middleware. More likely, the competitors that EMC is gradually lining up in its sights are Google and Amazon—two companies that definitely understand what happens when you put the emphasis on information and think of computing as a utility (i.e., there when you need it, but not the point of your existence).

“Pi’s technology is very complementary to our emerging cloud infrastructure strategy,” Tucci said in EMC’s announcement. “Paul Maritz and his team will provide invaluable vision and leadership as we position EMC at the leading edge of cloud computing and personal information management.” Speaking in my role as an editor and metaphor policeman, I’m not so sure that a “cloud” can have an “edge.” But I’d take Tucci’s position statement quite seriously.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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