Dell Storage Chief Admits Compellent Buy 'Problematic' For EMC

Dell's top enterprise storage executive on Tuesday admitted that Dell's acquisition of Compellent would be "problematic" for its relationship with EMC.

But the Compellent product overlap is only with EMC's Clariion midranged network storage portfolio, said Darren Thomas, vice president and general manager of Dell's enterprise storage business, and Dell's storage partnership with EMC goes far beyond that.

"It overlaps with Clariion but not with Symmetrix, or with several other parts of our EMC relationship, including the de-dupe," said Thomas during a discussion at the 2010 Raymond James IT Supply Chain conference in New York. "It's certainly problematic for the Clariion side but it's extraordinarily compelling for us because it is this next generation of modular high performing and optimized technology that is a part of Dell's strategy."

Dell on Monday confirmed a definitive agreement for a $960 million acquisition of Compellent, a move that bolsters Dell's storage and storage services portfolio with a number of key technologies. Dell also said it will resell Compellent's technologies until the acquisition is closed.

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Dell's intent to expand its storage capabilities has been well documented. But the Compellent move has been seen as contentious given Dell's existing status as EMC's largest reseller and also perceived overlap between the Compellent portfolio and that of EqualLogic, which Dell acquired in 2008.

Thomas addressed both topics at the Raymond James conference. For EqualLogic, he said, Dell views the overlap as minimal, and also, healthy.

"EqualLogic and Compellent overlap at the top end of EqualLogic and kind of at the bottom end of Compellent, but that's what you want. You want customers to have an opportunity in that overlap space to make the choice," he said. "So that's not an issue for us at all."

The EMC relationship does present a conflict, he acknowledged, but Dell and EMC's joint priority is its common customer set, Thomas said.

"We chose to be consistent with our strategy," he said. "In our relationship with EMC, the most important thing is our common customer set, and we both agree we're going to do what's right for customers and offer them the right solutions for their situation. I won't say it's without its issues, but it's the appropriate evolution for our time and for Dell's relationships."

Thomas said Dell's Compellent buy should be an easier integration than EqualLogic, in that it puts Dell into spaces it'll be comfortable competing.

"With EqualLogic, we had to convince customers they needed to do this and iCSCI was OK," he said. "Fibre channel is a core product area today, so it's easier with Compellent, even though there's a lot more competition. The net-net is we have a very similar opportunity with Compellent that we had with EqualLogic. It's not the first products in the space but it is unique products in the space, and we do well selling those products."

Next: Compellent's Place Among Dell's Other Storage Acquisitions

Thomas emphasized that Compellent is only the latest in an evolving storage acquisition strategy for Dell that brings the company closer to delivering an "intelligent infrastructure." That means not only Compellent but also EqualLogic, Exanet, Ocarina and the other strategic storage acquisitions Dell has made in the last few years.

"What we see coming through right now is an enormous amount of software ingenuity applied to this industry, which causes the customers to turn away from dialing the knobs themselves in favor of automation that dials the knobs better than they could, and doing it in real time," he said. "All of our acquisitions in the storage space are self-tuning, and give you the ability to move to appropriate tiers. A lot of the technology you see Dell acquiring is because of this opportunity for intelligent infrastructure which allows us to stake a claim and become an IT owner."

Dell's biggest portfolio hole, Thomas said, remains NAS, but that, too, is changing. The acquisitions of Exanet and Ocarina add significantly to Dell's NAS and de-duplication offerings as horizontal technologies. The Exanet technology is key to building a multiple-node NAS system that can scale to any level of performance a customer wants, and Dell is integrating it into PowerVault, EqualLogic, and, provided the acquisition goes through, Compellent lines.

Ocarina, Thomas said, was the most advanced company Dell encountered when looking for storage de-duplication technologies to buy. Ocarina develops content-aware de-dupe that compresses and de-dupes data based on the most appropriate of some 100 algorithms. Thomas said Dell has five programs underway to leverage the Ocarina technology, and is looking to expand the 25-or-so people focused on Ocarina to 100.

Dell will thrive, Thomas said, because much of the interest in the storage market is shifting to solution prices between $50,000 and $150,000, versus the $150,000 to $500,000 range that dominated a few years ago.

"Midrange has become a very capable set of solutions, and almost all the innovation in the technology has occurred in that band," he said. "Compellent fits there very well."