Walter Purvis, my very analytical colleague at Data Mobility Group, wrote in to call me on an apparent contradiction:

Yesterday you were flogging EMC for “the lack of a vision, or goal, that EMC is aiming for… where is EMC investing its R&D dollars to create the products, services and architectures that customers will need in three years?”

Today, you say “please, spare me your roadmap.”

Do you or do you not want EMC to tell you where it’s going? Please clarify.

(You’re ludicrously wrong about EMC not having a vision, of course, but that’s a different matter.)

Hey, George Herbert Walker Bush never got “the vision thing” either
Walter asks a good question: if I am not impressed by roadmaps, what do I want? A fluff-laden detour into technology la-la land?


What works for me, and may not work for anyone else, is something more basic. I like to know how people think about problems. Do they integrate a lot of seemingly disparate data points? Do they look at long term secular trends, especially exponential ones, and do the math to arrive at reasonable conclusions? [Power factors are something people are congenitally awful at, even folks with Ph.Ds.] Can they articulate when the trends will create new solution sets or challenges? Things like that.

At other companies, that is what CTOs do. Maybe Mr. Nick is doing it, and I haven’t seen it.

It is partly psychological. Task-oriented people say “show me the roadmap and I’ll know the answers to all those questions.” Me, I don’t trust roadmaps out beyond 12 months. Can you say “de-commit?”

We live in interesting times
Late ’80s IBM had a lot of roadmaps, great technology, smart people. And John Akers was driving them off a cliff. It took a few years for that to become obvious to the board. Another couple of years to figure out what they needed. Wrenching change. Which Lou Gerstner provided with a rethinking of IBM’s problems and market approach.

It isn’t about product roadmaps
I know that EMC has been hard at work remaking themselves as a software company, with some success. I know they’ve been hiring storage engineers to create VMware-based storage products. They’ve even gotten a few cluster storage patents. Mr. Nick is a pioneer in grid computing, right up there with Ian Foster. Good stuff, all.

Is EMC planning massive grid-based storage? They could be. If I’d gone to their analyst meeting I might even know. I just couldn’t tell you.

Is Dick Cheney EMC’s VP of PR?
What about the innovation network that was just announced? Good concept. Mary Jander captures how EMC’s “command and control” mindset turns a potentially worthy effort into an inept looking marketing ploy. Maybe the new board can help the company start acting like an adult instead of a sullen adolescent.

I do have some sympathy for the company. It isn’t easy being EMC. Compared to IBM and HP, they are tiny. A big chunk of their revenue comes from Dell, who could drop them in a heart beat. High growth and surging stock price are behind them, not ahead. Their corporate culture and track record makes them much less admired than NetApp and Seagate. Not to mention pesky bloggers.

The StorageMojo take
This all started with my comment that I chose not to go to EMC annual analyst meeting because they require an NDA. Most analysts go anyway and I don’t judge them. I made a choice, I informed EMC analyst relations and PR, and I’ve offered my opinion through my personal blog. I’m happy to live with consequences of my decision. EMC might rethink it, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t. Or they could explain it better. I’m open to persuasion.

The irony is that I have a lot of admiration for EMC. I just feel they are operating far below their potential. I’d like to see them live up to the ideals their website. Eat their own young and reinvent the storage industry.

And for all you EMC’ers who feel I’ve been so-o-o unfair: I’ve been even harder on Sun. So count your blessings. And learn to play well with others.

Comments welcome. I’d especially like to hear from anyone who’s met Richard Egan and either Ken Olsen or An Wang. What were your impressions?