EMC's release of its new VNX family of SMB storage arrays, and particularly the entry-level VNXe series, makes official what the industry has seen coming for some time: Dell is no longer a favored partner to EMC.
Indeed, the increasing complexity of the relationship between the two companies who since signing their first reseller agreement in 2001 have been close partners is reflected in the fact that the two this week don't quite agree how they will deal with EMC's new VNX and VNXe storage appliance line.
EMC originally made it clear that its new VNXe series, which target the "S" in SMB with unified storage arrays featuring list prices starting under $10,000, will be available to every one of its channel partners save Dell, a far cry from a couple years ago when Dell accounted for as much as one-third of EMC's midrange Clariion product line.
EMC Chairman, CEO, and President Joe Tucci was blunt when asked by CRN about how EMC plans to work with Dell in terms of the new product family.
"In this product line there is no Dell partnership," Tucci said. "In any conversations we have had with Dell, Dell will not take up this partnership. They will not resell this product."
That is not quite correct, said David Graves, a Dell spokesperson.
Dell, through its reseller agreement with EMC, will be offering both the VNXe and the VNX products with the EMC brand, Graves said.
Dell, which currently sells EMC's Clariion line with the Dell-EMC badge, will not be doing so with the VNXe products, Graves said. However, he said, the two vendors are currently discussing whether there will be a Dell-EMC version of the VNX.
EMC later clarified through a spokesperson that Dell is not selling its VNXe line, and that there are no plans at this time for that to happen. Dell is also not selling the VNX systems at this time, and there are no plans at this time for that to happen, but the two are in discussions, EMC said.
Dell's not having access to the VNXe is a huge opportunity for EMC's other partners, Tucci said.
"Obviously some channel partners - maybe all channel partners - would see Dell as a competitor," he said. "Here we are saying, 'Don't worry about it - Dell is not getting this product.' It sounds like I'm saying, 'You can't have it Dell.' Basically it doesn't fit their strategy. It doesn't fit our strategy."
Next: EMC's Primary Competition For VNX/VNXe Could Be Dell
Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and one of EMC's top channel partners, said that EMC's new VNXe's top competitor is definitely Dell.
EMC made the VNXe a very easy-to-install product line to convince the numerous smaller partners who are now selling tons of VMware licenses with Dell storage products to go with EMC instead, especially now that Dell is in the process of acquiring Compellent, a key EMC competitor, Shepard said.
"My message to Dell is, get out of the storage business and focus on what you do best," he said. "Getting Compellent won't help Dell. Dell should focus on virtualization and on the high-end consulting business."
The release of the VNX and VNXe families will further push EMC and Dell apart in that it also signals the pending end of EMC's Clariion product, long the keystone of those two companies' relationship.
Eric Herzog, vice president of product management and product marketing at EMC, said that EMC expects customers to start transitioning purchases of Clariion arrays, which were designed primarily for block storage, and the Celerra appliances, designed for file storage, to the VNX and VNXe unified storage platform, which combines both block and file storage in a single appliance.
"We will continue to sell Clariion and Celerra for the foreseeable future," Herzog said. "However, those will primarily be to customers who have qualified those products already."
Herzog also said that, while EMC will support Clariion and Celerra with bug fixes and with Unisphere support, it will no longer update those lines processor power or disk storage.
While EMC channel partners who were concerned about competing with Dell on EMC storage sales can now breathe more freely, they should not discount Dell as a competitor.
Dell's gradual break with EMC was due, in part, to Dell's gradual rise as not only a serious competitor in the storage market, but also as a company with a solid and growing channel program focused primarily on the storage business.
That rise dated from late 2007, when Dell unveiled a $1.4-billion bid to acquire EqualLogic, one of the pioneers in the fast-growing iSCSI business. Dell closed that acquisition in 2008, and since then it has become Dell's most important storage product line.
Next: Dell And EMC Continue To Move Apart
Last Summer when Dell made a bid to acquire another storage vendor, 3PAR. Dell eventually lost the deal to Hewlett-Packard after a short but intense bidding war, but not before the damage to its relationship with EMC was done.
However, Dell is currently in the process of closing its $960 million acquisition Compellent, a channel-only storage vendor with a very loyal cadre of solution providers.
Tucci said there will always be some relationship between Dell and EMC, but the relationship of the past is gone.
"It is a fraction of what it was, a small fraction," Tucci said. "And I think in the SMB space it will…I think there will always be a relationship between the companies and there will be some products. But the core of the (EMC) family has got to be a competitor to Dell's storage products. Part of (Dell's) PowerVault plays there. Most of EqualLogic plays there."
Steve Burke contributed to this article.