What Dell buying EMC means for VMware

Will VMware remain independent? Will company start peddling Dell hardware?

vmware questions

With Dell acquiring EMC for a record $67 billion, it raises the question: What does this all mean for VMware and its customers?

Officially, Dell says VMware will remain an independent publicly traded company. The wrinkle is that EMC owns 83% of VMware’s stock; and Dell is acquiring EMC.

Forrester analyst Glenn O’Donnell says he expects the impact of the merger on VMware customers to be minimal. “You can basically look at this as some musical chairs at the high end,” he says. But other analysts say there could be significant opportunities for Dell to combine its hardware with VMware’s software.

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In a conference call discussing the deal, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger made it sound like business as usual. He spoke of the “substantial leverage” the merger will create for all the companies involved.

But there was a larger point in making that statement: Gelsinger said VMware is still committed to working with other vendors; VMware will not be turning into just a Dell reseller.

Chairman and CEO Michael Dell seemed to support that idea. “Our industry has a long history of companies collaborating and also competing against each other. Certainly that will continue here.”

Simon Robinson, an analyst at the 451 Research Group says there is no doubt Dell will explore ways to cross-sell VMware and Dell products, but he says it would be wise to let VMware remain independent. “The first question many VMware customers will ask is whether this will mean they are somehow locked in to Dell,” Robinson says. “Keeping VMware at arms length was the best thing EMC did, and Dell should do the same.”

There could be tantalizing opportunities for Dell to see its hardware in major growth markets where VMware operates. These include cloud computing, converged infrastructure and software defined networking.

Over the past two years VMware has developed software called EVO to manage converged infrastructure environments – these are systems that offer a combined management platform for compute, network and storage in a single hardware appliance. In the past, VMware has allowed any hardware vendor to run the software, so long as certain technical specifications are met. Dell could push for it to be a primary hardware supplier for EVO though. 

Wikibon analyst Brian Gracely says the combined EMC/Dell company could pressure customers into exploring alternative hardware options. “In the near-term (e.g. immediate refresh cycles), it doesn't impact customers,” Gracely says, because the deal isn’t expected to close until mid 2016.  “Mid to long-term, (this merger) could impact (VMware customers’) underlying hardware buys.” One interesting angle to watch here is that Dell is a major partner of Nutanix, another converged infrastructure vendor. Dell could be double-dipping in this market if it keeps that relationship going.

Cloud computing is another major area that could be impacted by this merger. Because of VMware’s strength in the compute virtualization market, it is turning into an important vendor in building private cloud management software – with a product named vCenter. Perhaps there could be combined hardware/software offerings in this market too.

Constellation Research analyst Holger Mueller wonders what will happen on the public cloud side though. Dell scrapped its plans to build a public cloud a few years ago, deciding instead to specialize in helping customers manage multiple clouds (Dell bought the company Enstratius, which it turned into Dell Cloud Manager).

Meanwhile, VMware has built its vCloud Air public cloud. The question becomes: Will Dell support VMware building out its vCloudAir public cloud, or will Dell push VMware to embrace its multi-cloud management toolset?

“The key will be that the new Dell can play on both sides of the spectrum - on premises and selling to cloud providers, something that VMware was very good at,” Mueller says. “But the question ultimately is can Dell create its own (public) cloud infrastructure?”

O’Donnell, the Forrester analyst, says Dell could look to expand its role in the networking market thanks to the merger. VMware’s NSX product is one of the leading software defined networking products – although it still trails Cisco’s offering. “This merger could help position Dell much more strongly in the networking space,” he says.

All of these potential combinations of Dell and VMware will have to be worked out carefully. VMware will want to balance its independence; Dell may want to integrate its hardware products into VMware sales. “In terms of what VMware customers will get from the Dell ownership, I think that the opportunity for Dell is to vastly simplify the whole infrastructure/IT procurement and management process,” says Robinson. “Some customers are going to buy into that, but not all of them.”


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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