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A potential muddle for EMC

Sep 30, 20034 mins
Data Center

* Will EMC offer a single interface across its growing product lines?

Last week, EMC unveiled two software offerings – VisualSAN and VisualSRM – aimed at the midtier market. The products come from the company’s acquisitions of Prisa Networks and Astrum Software. Those tools, together with software from its impending purchase of Legato Systems, lead to questions about how all the product lines from the different acquisitions will live together.

EMC purchased Prisa, a San Diego start-up with a software package for designing storage-area networks (SAN), in September of 2002. Astrum was another start-up acquired by EMC this past spring. Astrum, of Cambridge Mass., was putting together a storage resource management (SRM) package. Prisa had several customers, Astrum had very few.

Software from those two acquisitions make up much of EMC’s midrange storage management strategy.  VisualSRM (the Astrum product) and VisualSAN (from Prisa) have been rolled out together as two components of the same family.  They are, however, only loosely related, with differing user interfaces and no apparent connectivity under the hood.

Because most midtier businesses seem to want software that addresses specific problems, I don’t see the lack of integration between the two offerings as a real limitation.  Each product provides a stand-alone solution, and folks who buy one product or the other will therefore not see this as an issue.

VisualSAN has a good reputation, but VisualSRM has really only been a rudimentary management product until lately.  Its strengths were in monitoring and reporting SAN events – clearly important functions but lacking any real ability to “twiddle the dials” and hardly what most people would define as “management.”  Its policy engine now has some management capabilities though, and it is a sure bet that these will become increasingly robust over time. 

There is a fly in the ointment however, when it comes to the user interfaces of the two products.  Unfortunately, managers who look at both products will find little consistent look and feel between them.

This is a curious state of affairs.  Use of a consistent GUI over an entire product family means that the ramp up time for learning new products can be significantly reduced, which of course results in quicker time-to-value and faster payback for the buyer.   Microsoft follows this course as it develops its Office suite of products, and because of this it is relatively easy for even a newbie to move from one product in the Office suite to another and get some immediate use from the investment.

That’s not the case with these two products however and, for companies looking to purchase both, this is something of a drawback.

And there may be another, much larger problem looming on the horizon.  Or a great opportunity.

The investment in Astrum and Prisa was a drop in the bucket when compared to EMC’s impending purchase of Legato.  This is important in this context because Legato had itself purchased OTG Software a while back, and now makes a lot of software for middle-market companies.  Thus there is a potential for a large muddle of user interfaces across EMC’s growing number of product lines.

Alternatively, EMC may seize the chance to provide a single, consistent look and feel across its entire product set.  And why not?  With all EMC’s resources I have to wonder what might happen if it created a consistent EMC interface across all its offerings.  This certainly would help customers transition to different platforms, and would make it easier for EMC to move its present customer base to the additional offerings within its product set. 

User interfaces aren’t the easiest thing to do, but neither are they the hardest.  It is a pretty good bet that a consistent look and feel across a growing number of products would make it easier for companies to transition to EMC software.