Let’s play Clue: Who really killed EMC?

I used to love the board game Clue as a kid (or Cluedo as it’s called back home).  Often when you won, you knew with 100% certainty the who, what, and where for the murder before you made your bold pronouncement.  But sometimes, if you thought someone else was close to solving the murder, you had to take an early best guess with a little less certainty.  And that’s a bit like where I am with EMC.  Do I know for sure who killed EMC..?  No.  But I’m willing to go out on a bit of a limb – I think I can guess who killed EMC, where, and with what weapon.

Since the acquisition of EMC by Dell was announced, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the Bay state.  There’s much hand-wringing that another Boston tech giant is, well, no longer a Boston tech giant.  (EMC is relocating it’s HQ to Texas.)  People have long memories, and the ghost of DEC is apparently still haunting my neighbors as we approach Halloween.  Truthfully, I’m a bit shocked that Dell is being cast in a bad light – a bit of a party crasher, a vulture, a bit of an Ebenezer Scrooge.  So let me put that straight – who really killed EMC?

It was Amazon, in the cloud, with a commodity disk drive. Here’s how:

  • The amount of data is growing by about 40% a year – or doubling every two years.  In an ironic twist, I’ll cite numbers from IDC in research bought and paid for by EMC.  To counter this somewhat, the cost per byte of raw disk storage seems to be halving roughly every three years at the moment.  Bottom line, money is still being spent on storage.
  • The storage hardware segment of EMC’s business (Information Storage) has  struggled for growth.  From EMC’s public financials, from 2012 to 2013, revenues grew 4%.  But, from 2013 to 2014, growth rate for this business slowed to only 2%.  And if this data from IDC is accurate (and I have no reason to think that it’s not), EMC lost market share and saw revenues decline early this year – particularly in the lucrative storage systems business.
  • Amazon is building out a colossal computing infrastructure using commodity hardware.  James Hamilton notes this in his excellent presentation from re:Invent 2014:  Amazon saw 132% year-year growth in data transferred in its S3 storage solution, and has over one million customers active on AWS.  Every day Amazon adds enough capacity to AWS to support a $7bn ecommerce operation – effectively all of Amazon’s business back in 2004 when it was a $7bn company.  How much capacity is that?  I’m not sure to be honest, but if Amazon’s average sale in 2004 was $30, that’s over 233m sales transactions that need to be recorded, processed and supported.  Sounds like a lot of storage to me…And I very much doubt Amazon uses EMC’s premium products for that.  As James notes, Amazon typically designs it’s own servers and storage racks.

So, I rest my case.  What used to be stored on EMC systems in corporate data centers is now being stored on cheap disks in Amazon’s cloud.  Amazon did it, Amazon killed EMC.

(Originally published on industrial-iot.com, a blog by ARC Advisory Group analysts)