EMC smarts to trickle down to consumer space

However, analyst questions benefits of de-duplication, virtualisation for consumers

EMC plans to hand down advanced features, including de-duplication and even virtualisation, to consumer products coming out of its recently purchased Iomega division.

The storage vendor is best known for its large-scale enterprise systems, but has expanded into several adjacent markets through acquisitions. Late last month, executives from some of those divisions discussed their missions with press and analysts.

Iomega, which EMC bought earlier this year, was an early star in direct-attached storage for consumer PCs and is now shifting its focus towards networked storage for homes and small businesses. Many of the features in EMC's software have a place in the lower-end market, says Jonathan Huberman, formerly CEO of Iomega and now president of EMC's consumer and small business products division.

EMC has high hopes for the division, aiming for US$1 billion (NZ$1.45 billion) of revenue per year, partly because the amount of data to be stored is growing fastest among consumers, Huberman said at the session. Iomega will compete with rivals such as SanDisk and Western Digital on the strength of added features EMC developed for enterprises, he said.

For example, data de-duplication from EMC's Avamar acquisition will be included in an upcoming network-attached storage box from Iomega. That technology recognises duplicate copies of information and reduces them to one copy, potentially slashing the total amount of space a user requires.

Also on the way is virtualisation, an enterprise strength that EMC acquired with VMware. That could be used to make content that is spread across multiple networked hard drives in a home appear as a single pool, so a consumer could find videos or photos without having to know which drive they reside on.

Analyst Charles King of Pund-IT believes both of those would appeal to a fairly small group of consumers because of their complexity.

"I don't see the vast majority of consumers sitting down and playing with virtualisation in their home storage arrays," King says. "The only way it could play in the consumer space would be ... if it could be deployed in some very highly automated way that would almost run in the background of a device."

Likewise, most consumers would simply buy more storage, which is falling in price, rather than adopt a separate product for data de-duplication. But if virtually invisible to the user, it might have a benefit, King says. Both technologies would have greater benefits to small businesses, Iomega's other customers, he says.

EMC is already offering its Retrospect backup software and Mozy online storage service with Iomega hard drives. In July, it introduced a way for consumers to configure all these features at the same time when installing their new storage devices. While Retrospect automatically backs up the data on PCs to storage on-site, Mozy provides an encrypted copy of some or all of that at an EMC facility. It's the equivalent of a remote data store for consumers, for recovery in case of theft, fire or other disaster.

The company also is working with mobile phone makers, service providers and other partners to integrate its storage with things consumers use every day. Soon, consumers will be able to upload pictures and other content directly from their phones to an Iomega network storage device, as well as store video from a home surveillance camera via a wired or wireless connection, Huberman said at the press/analyst session.

Service providers are trying to keep their customers loyal through combinations of voice, video, data and mobile, and storage could add another tool to reduce "churn", or customers leaving for another provider, he said.

"If, on top of that, I've got all your backup — so I've got all your data there, too — it gives you another hurdle to go over before you decide to churn," Huberman said.

Huberman also predicted that flash technology will remain a niche product in home storage until at least late 2010. It's only a matter of time before flash supplants most hard drives, but it won't be soon, he said.

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