Today's news release is making the rounds here at EMC: SAP annointing the EMC/VMware combination as preferred partners for cloud. A somewhat similar release was issued by our compatriots at VCE only a few days ago.
More than a few people here are extremely enthused; I tend to be a bit more reserved simply because it's only the latest signpost of a deep symbiotic corporate relationship that goes back for more than a decade.
That being said, it's also a fascinating industry case study of how one company (EMC) can -- over time -- wrap its entire value proposition around that of another company -- SAP.
The Big Ideas
EMC has always been about information: storing it, protecting it, securing it, virtualizing it, leveraging it in new ways, and so on. That was true when I got here in 1994, and it's going to be true into the forseeable future.
But -- outside of our IIG group (Documentum, xCP, Captiva, SourceOne, et. al.) -- EMC has never really been in the application business: we've mostly focused on adding value to other applications environments. Going further, a decent proportion of what IIG does can also be seen as "value add" to non-EMC application environments.
In the world of enterprise applications, SAP is the Big Kahuna: the essential brain and central nervous system of so many business models across an incredible spectrum of industries, geographies and company sizes.
From an EMC perspective, that represents a veritable mother lode of information to store, protect, virtualize, secure, leverage, etc.
Indeed, a quick logical mapping between EMC/VMware capabilities and SAP's produces a wealth of potential value-add for customers of both. But what looks easy on paper can be decidedly more difficult in the real world.
The Shared Landscape
Way back in 1995, EMC had this mainframe-oriented storage product (Symmetrix) that it was trying to bring to large UNIX environments. Very early on, I found that SAP customers were frequently challenged in essentially running mainframe-class workloads on the UNIX boxes of the time.
They had performance problems. They had availability headaches. They had data protection and business continuity gaps. They had capacity problems. At the time, Symmetrix was extremely differentiated in all these regards -- and found an enthusiastic reception in larger SAP shops. Indeed, I believe that our pronounced value-add in SAP environments was one of the motivators behind HP reselling EMC arrays during this period.
It didn't take us long to put 2 and 2 together and realize that we should be investing in SAP: the company, the products and the ecosystem. That was true in 1995, and it's still true today.
Of course, EMC has far more it brings to the table these days than a nice, mainframe-class storage array.
Consider the following:
- When it comes to infrastructure for SAP, we've got many thousands of mutual customers: physical, virtualized or (more recently) using the latest private cloud models from VCE using Vblocks. The value prop here is familiar: improved efficiency, better service delivery and more agility for the business.
- SAP environments, especially larger ones, have unique data protection and business continuity requirements. In particular, retaining consistency between multiple instances and databases is one area that EMC seems to excel in.
- No surprise, many enterprises are justifiably focused on securing SAP information, RSA is in full play: from authentication to encryption to more sophisticated risk identification and management.
- Most SAP environments generate and use content as a fundamental data type, and that's where the IIG portfolio comes into play; whether it be ingesting documents using Captiva, creating augmented workflows with xCP, or archiving information for later use with Documentum and/or SourceOne -- there's a broad set of capabilities here as well.
There's more in the Ionix portfolio that's applicable, not to mention EMC Global Services: consulting, implementation, migration, etc. And, of course, our growing portfolio of SAP-oriented partners (resellers, integrators, consultants and service providers) that make for a complete ecosystem.
So there's obviously a lot to work with between the two companies -- but what makes this hard?
Internal EMC Challenges
EMC -- like most large tech companies -- is actually an integrated collection of related businesses: storage, security, virtualization, services and so on. Characteristically, SAP-focused investments made by EMC would largely be associated with individual business units.
While that's good, the eventual result can be a pastiche of individual (and product-centric) value propositions that can be difficult to weave together, especially in front of customers and partners. To do this effectively, you need to invest in SAP-centric (and often industry-centric) specialists who can integrate the breadth of the proposition around specific customer pain points.
And you can never have enough of these people to put in front of customers and partners. Over time, we've built up a decent critical mass, but we could always use more :)
Internal SAP Challenges?
SAP, like most large tech companies, appears to have many of the same mirror-image challenges that EMC faces. SAP is also a collection of integratd application and software businesses.
Just about every SAP business unit appears to care about EMC-relevant topics such as infrastructure, data protection, virtualization, security, content management, et. al. to some degree -- but broad skill-set investments in these adjacent topics can be difficult to justify, especially in customer and partner facing roles.
If I think back over the years -- yes, there's more of this at SAP than there used to be -- but (as with EMC) there's always room to do more :)
So, What's New Here?
If you're like me, you pore through these partnership and alliance press releases to figure out "what's new, and does it matter?". There's a story here with this announcement, but it takes some digging to get to it.
First, it's pretty clear that SAP has embraced the notion of private clouds: efficient pools of shared resources that are delivered as variable and easy-to-consume services vs. static infratructure. And SAP has long embraced the notion of delivering their software as a service by partnering with a wide variety of integrators and service providers.
I think when SAP looks at EMC and VMware -- either individually, or collectively through VCE -- they see a compelling "two-fer": leading tech companies focused on transforming traditional IT organizations into looking more like competitive service providers, and deep investments to create a compatible ecosystem of external IT service provider choices.
But there's more ...
If you dig through this article, you'll notice the stellar Pat Gelsinger talking freely about forthcoming integration between SAP's in-memory HANA database, and EMC's FAST -- actually, Project Lightning over time. If you think about it, this makes an attractive technology integration point between the two companies.
The magic trick to leveraging server memory, server-side flash, storage-side flash, disk tiers, etc. is getting the right information in the right location at the right time: preferrably *before* it's used.
There are two general approaches to this challenge. One is to use historical behavior and external application knowledge to make very intelligent guesses as to the dynamically optimized location of information elements. Indeed, EMC has invested in this approach for many, many years.
The other approach is to ask the application environment to give us infrastructure vendors "hints" as to what's important from a performance perspective, and what's less so.
If you think about it, the SAP environment can do a better job of knowing which information elements are important at a given point in time, and thus should be drawn ever-closer into the server: whether that information lives on DRAM or server-side storage flash. To the extent that EMC can create progressively larger tiers of automated storage/memory behind HANA (server-side flash, storage-side flash cache, storage-side flash storage, etc.), -- and get explicit hints from SAP -- the better.
Not to mention that transactions change state; and thus must be preserved vs. simply cached.
Not talked about here -- but obviously in the discussion -- is the observation that SAP is a critical enterprise data source for the next generation of big data analytics applications, and thus plays nicely into what we're doing with Greenplum and xCP.
It's All About Context
Part of what gets me up in the morning every day is the blistering pace of change in the IT world. The technologies are changing. The consumption models are changing. The role of IT itself is changing. Not for the faint-of-heart, but incredibly fascinating for adrenaline junkies like me.
Ultimately, the real challenge is orchestrating all those moving components around the businesses that consume them to deliver value. You have to be adept at solving today's immediate challenges, while laying the groundwork for the future that's inevitably to come.
And it's nice to see EMC/VMware and SAP continuing to work together to do that well :)