Vblock Review

VCE's change of ownership

In case you have not heard, the joint initiative (JV) founded in the fall of 2009 between Intel VMware Cisco and EMC called VCE had a change of ownership today.

Well, kind of…

Who is VCE and what’s this Zen stuff?

For those not familiar or who need a recap, VCE was created to create converged server, storage I/O networking hardware and software solutions combing technologies from its investors resulting in solutions called vBlocks.

The major investors were Cisco who provides the converged servers and I/O networking along with associated management tools as well as EMC who provides the storage systems along with their associated management tools. Minority investors include VMware (who is majority owned by EMC) who provides the server virtualization aka software defined data center management tools and Intel whose’s processor chip technologies are used in the vBlocks. What has changed from Zen (e.g. yesterday or in the past) and now is that Cisco has sold the majority (they are retaining about 10%) of its investment ownership in VCE to EMC. Learn more about VCE, their solutions and valueware in this post here (VCE revisited, now and Zen).

Activist activating activity?

EMC pulling VCE in-house which should prop up its own internal sales figures by perhaps a few billion USDs within a year or so (if not sooner) is not as appealing to activists investors who want results now such as selling off parts of the company (e.g. EMC, VMware or other assets) or the entire company.

However EMC has been under pressure from activist shareholder Elliot Management to divest or sell-off portions of this business such as VMware so that the investors (including the activist) can make more money. For example there have been the recent stories about EMC looking to sell or merge with the likes of HP (who is now buying back shares and splitting up its own business) among others which certainly must make the activist investors happy.

However to the activist investors who want to see things sold to make money they are not happy with EMC off buying or investing it appears.

Via Bloomberg

“The last thing on investors’ minds is the future of VCE,” Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, wrote in a note today. “EMC has a fire in its house right now and the company appears focused on painting its bedroom (e.g. VCE), while the Street wants a resolution on the strategic ownership situation sooner rather than later.”

Read more at Bloomberg

Whats this EMC Federation stuff?

Note that EMC has organized itself into a federation that consists of EMC Information Infrastructure (EMCII) or what you might know a traditional EMC based storage and related software solutions, VMware, Pivotal and RSA. Also note that each of those federated companies have their own CEO as well as have holdings or ownership of other companies. However all report to a common federated leadership aka EMC. Thus when you hear EMC that could mean depending on the context the federation mother ship which controls the individual companies, or it could also be used to refer to EMCII aka the traditional EMC. Click here to learn more about the EMC federation.

Converging Markets and Opportunities

Looking beyond near-term or quick gains, EMC could be simply doing something others do to take ownership and control over certain things while reducing complexities associated with joint initiatives. For example with EMC and Cisco in a close partnership with VCE, both parties have been free to explore and take part in other joint initiatives such as Cisco with EMC competitors NetApp, HDS among others. Otoh EMC partners with Arista for networking, not to mention via VMware acquired virtual network or software defined network Nicira now called NSX.

EMC is also in a partnership with Lenovo for developing servers to be used by EMC for various platforms to support storage, data and information services while shifting the lower-end SMB storage offerings such as Iomega to the Lenovo channel.

Note that Lenovo is in the process of absorbing the IBM xSeries (e.g. x86 based) business unit that started closing earlier in October (will take several months to completely close in all countries around the world). For its part Cisco is also partnering with hyper-converged solution provider Simplivity while EMC has announced its statement of direction to bring to market its own hyper-converged platform by end of the year. For those not familiar, Hyper-converged solutions are simply the next evolution of converged or pre-bundled turnkey systems (some of you might have just had a Dejavu moment) that today tend to be targeted for SMBs and ROBOs however used for targeted applications such as VDI in larger environments.

What does this have to do with VCE?

IF EMC is about to release as it has made statement of direction statements of a hyper-converged solution by year-end to compete head-on with those from Nutanix, Simplivity and Tintri as well as perhaps to a lesser extent VMwares EVO:Rail, by having more control over VCE means reducing if not eliminating complexity around vBlocks which are Cisco based with EMC storage vs. what ever EMC brings to market for hyper-converged. In the past under the VCE initiatives storage was limited to EMC and servers along with networking from Cisco, hypervisors from VMware, however what happens in the future remains to be seen.

Does this mean EMC is moving even more into servers than just virtual servers?

Tough to say as EMC can not afford to have its sales force lose focus on its traditional core products while ramping up other business, however, the EMC direct and partner teams want and need to keep up account control which means gaining market share and footprint in those accounts. 

This also means EMC needs to find ways to take cost out of the sales and marketing process where possible to streamline which perhaps brining VCE will help do.

Will this perhaps give the EMC direct and partner sales teams a new carrot or incentive to promote converged and hyper-converged at the cost of other competitors or incumbents? Perhaps, lets see what happens in the coming weeks.

What does this all mean?

In a nut shell, IMHO EMC is doing a couple of things here one of which is cleaning up some ownership in JVs to give it self more control, as well as options for doing other business transactions (mergers and acquisitions (M&A), sales or divestiture’s, new joint initiatives, etc). Then there is streamline its business from decision-making to quickly respond to new opportunities as well as routes to markets and other activities (e.g. removing complexity and cost vs. simply cutting cost).

Does this signal the prelude to something else? Perhaps, we know that EMC has made a statement of direction about hyper-converged which with VCE now more under EMC control, perhaps we will see more options from under the VCE umbrella both for lower-end and entry SMB as well as SME and large enterprise organizations.

What about the activist investors?

They are going to make noise as long as they can continue to make more money or get what they want. Publicly I would be shocked if the activist investors were not making statements that EMC should be selling assets not buying or investing.

On the other hand, any smart investor, financial or other analyst should see though the fog of what this relatively simple transaction means in terms of EMC getting further control of its future.

Of course the question will stay does EMC remain in control of its current federation of EMC, VMware, Pivotal, RSA along each of their respective holdings, does EMC doe a block buster merger, divestiture or acquisition?

Take a step back, look at the big picture!

Some things to keep an eye on:

  • Will this move help streamline decision-making enabling new solutions to be brought to market and customers quicker?
  • While there is a VMware focus, don’t forget about the long-running decades old relationship with Microsoft and how that plays into the equation
  • Watch for what EMC releases with their hyper-converged solution as well as where it is focused, not to mention how sold
  • Also watch the EMC and Lenovo join initiative, both for the Iomega storage activity as well as what EMC and Lenovo do with and for servers
  • Speaking of Lenovo, unless I missed something as of the time of writing this, have you noticed that Lenovo is not yet part of the VMware EVO:Rail initiative?

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.

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