Last week I spent three days with EMC management, employees and (my guess) about 4,000 of EMC's dearest friends, its customers and resellers. I drank deeply of EMC's beer, sipped sparingly on the Kool-Aid, and verified a number of things I had been wondering about.Some key takeaways from my time talking to EMC-ers, the company's channel partners and customers appear in this and the following edition of the newsletter, along with some brief commentary. Make of all this what you will.EMC continues its evolution. First, it was a storage company. Then, about three-and-a-half years ago it morphed into a "storage and information management" company. Now it wants to think of itself as an "information infrastructure" company. What does this mean? Just what I've been telling you ever since the SMARTS acquisition - EMC recognizes that information is almost always the crown jewel when it comes to enterprise assets, and it wants to be managing as much of that as it can.So far, things are going well for most of EMC, but most particularly for its VMware group, which saw sales rise by 64% last quarter. The execs told me that VMware discussions are a part of just about every sales contact these days. Most importantly, EMC expects to continue growing at better than the market rate this year as well.R&D investment will likely shake out into the following areas: "unified" information lifecycle management, virtualization, information security and information grid.Joe Tucci, EMC chairman says, of the competition: "Our greatest competition is IBM. They are the only ones who do everything we do." This should be no surprise to anyone, but it does open up opportunities for companies such as NetApp if EMC forgets to keep an eye on them as well. I suspect, however, that EMC is capable of keeping an eye on more than one competitor at a time.Tucci on acquisitions: "Smaller companies only, to fill in the spaces." After swallowing (and digesting quite nicely, thank you) Legato, VMware, Documentum and SMARTS, Tucci likes the metaphor of "a string of pearls" - smaller companies, each a leader in its field - to describe EMC's acquisition strategy going forward. As my wife would be quick to point out, pearls come in all sizes, of course.Mark Lewis, chief development officer, on what to look for in the future: "Most software will evolve into an appliance model, when possible ... the concept of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) will evolve into a service-oriented infrastructure ..." Longtime readers of this newsletter know how much I like the idea of appliances (I do, but I tend to define "appliance" much more strictly than most folks do), so the idea of being able to install software simply by finding a few "U's" of available rack space works for me. As for service-oriented infrastructure, isn't that just an implementation of the SOA? Let's wait and see what EMC does with this.Lewis also emphasized the importance to EMC of services, simplicity and security as the company moves forward. Understand from this that "information-centric" security will certainly be important as EMC looks to extend its influence across all of IT to provide resource management across networks, servers, applications and whatever else happens to be out there.More on this next time.*** The 2006 edition of The Great Storage Haiku Contest is in its last week. Thus far, we have entries from Asia, the United States, Europe and Australia. I get e-mail from Africa and South America - come on guys, I know you are out there! The contest rules are here and you can send entries directly to me. Winning entries will appear in this column in May.