VMware To Embed EMC Storage Tech In vSphere, Could Shake Up Partnerships

Channel sources close to VMware say the company is planning to embed a version of EMC's Avamar backup software into its vSphere virtualization and cloud platform, a move that would breach the technology firewall between EMC and VMware.

VMware is expected next week to use its VMworld conference to unveil plans to embed the Avamar Virtual Edition in VMware's vSphere 5.1, giving users the opportunity to back up a maximum of 2 TBs of data free of charge, according to multiple channel sources.

Avamar Virtual Edition is a virtual appliance version of EMC's Avamar data protection software, which is deployed within a VMware virtual machine.

[Related: VMware Kills vRAM Licensing, Will Focus On vSphere Cloud Bundles ]

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Customers would also have the opportunity to upgraded to a full version of the Avamar software, channel sources said.

Such a move by VMware, which is majority owned by EMC, would be significant in that VMware would be embedding data protection technology from EMC, which competes with VMware technology partners and EMC rivals such as Symantec and Veeam.

Unlike VMware's decision to end its vRAM licensing plan, which directly impacts customers' budgets, the impact of such a move will likely be felt less at the user or solution provider level and more at the technology partner level.

The Avamar decision would be of major importance to VMware's technology partners, said Greg Knieriemen, an enterprise technology podcaster and vice president of marketing at Chi Corp., a Cleveland, Ohio-based solution provider.

"If Avamar gets embedded in VMware, there will be a nerd riot at VMworld," Knieriemen said. "People, especially in social media, will be up in arms about it. It would be an incredible, a ballsy, move for EMC to do. EMC would be putting product into VMware where it didn't do before. It's not just stepping on the toes of (VMware) partners, but kicking them in the [groin]."

One solution provider equated such a move with EMC pushing in all its chips at the gambling table. "Is VMware going to start selling storage now?" the solution provider asked.

It is a valid question.

NEXT: EMC Kept VMware Separate, But Signs Point To Possible Change

After years of focusing on virtualization of server and desktop infrastructures and building a cloud computing platform, VMware has of late expanded into a variety of new areas including application development via acquisitions.

This expansion last month reached a new high with VMware's unveiling of plans to acquire Nicira, the leading developer of software-defined networking.

When EMC agreed to acquire VMware in 2003, EMC made a strategic decision to keep VMware independent of the parent company.

VMware Co-founder Diane Greene, in a 2008 interview with CRN just before she was fired as CEO, said that she and EMC Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci agreed to keep the two separate.

"We anticipated that we were probably going to get integrated," Greene said at the time. "But what happened was, the day we were acquired we realized that this was a company built to partner. It's just in our bones. We went to market with IBM, then HP and Dell, and we had really strong relationships with them. We've expanded our relationships with them since then in terms of making sure our virtualization works well with their servers."

In retrospect, it was one of the IT industry's turning points. By keeping independent, some of EMC's biggest rivals, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Symantec, are also major technology partners of VMware. This not only made VMware the top vendor by far of virtualization technology, but also helped it build one of the top platforms for cloud computing.

EMC has of late been drawing VMware closer in than in the past. Most recently, EMC appointed Pat Gelsinger, COO and president of EMC's Information Infrastructure Products division, to take over as VMware CEO starting this coming September 1.

Gelsinger also told CRN in an interview shortly before his move to VMware that EMC plans eventually to offer virtual machine versions of all its storage systems that can be run on industry-standard servers. Such a move would make it easier to run applications in a cloud instead of moving the data to the application.

EMC plans to also start demonstrating capabilities next year that allow customers to run virtual machines inside of EMC's storage arrays, Gelsinger said.

NEXT: Partners Will Have To Innovate

By embedding Avamar Virtual Edition into vSphere, VMware customers will be able to back up 2 TBs of data at no charge, potentially impacting a part of the business of such VMware data protection partners as Symantec and Veeam, according to channel sources.

However, one solution provider said, the direct impact on those technology partners could possibly be limited due to the fact that they know they need to innovate anyway to compete in the market.

"Companies like VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft, all the platform companies, have to evolve their platforms," the solution provider said. "To do so, they need to keep their partners informed. Veeam, Symantec, and others probably got advance notice, so they know they need to build better technology. They can't rest on their laurels. They need to innovate."

Other potential limits to the impact include the fact that business users who are satisfied with existing data protection technologies may not want to switch to EMC Avamar. Also, one solution provider said, vSphere 5.1 has 200-plus new features, making it difficult for customers to try them all.

EMC declined to comment on this story. VMware did not respond to requests for more information.