Mention Internet start-ups and the .com revolution generally and what are the infrastructural building blocks that spring to mind?
Databases, of course. Networking, naturally. And web servers, without doubt.
You'd probably find that the bulk of the people in the heavy duty, Unix side of the business also largely associate the same IT cornerstones with the Oracle, Cisco and Sun brands.
But, hang on, there's one missing. What about storage? Even if you did think of this missing denominator, which corporate name do you associate with it?
For storage giant EMC, that is the nub of the problem. Unlike Oracle with its style guru CEO Larry Ellison, Sun and its razor-tongued leader Scott McNealy, or even Cisco with its charismatic John Chambers, EMC has Mike Ruettgers - described by analysts as a strong, friendly but otherwise shy type.
They're the kind of characteristics considered virtues in and around Boston, Massachusetts, near where EMC is headquartered. But in the brash, thrusting world of IT, friendly reserve hardly equates to vociferous branding.
All of which could explain why Ruettgers has been jetting thousands of miles banging the drum for EMC before hundreds of fund managers, analysts and journalists.
And for once, Ruettgers was being positively immodest about his company's achievements, if not downright rude about the opposition too.
Moreover, Ruettgers has good reason to bang the drum. In his 11 years stewardship, EMC has become one of the IT industry's most successful stocks with a market capitalisation of $67bn and, with the acquisition of Data General in August, on target for global revenues of $10bn, maybe even $12bn p.a. by 2001.
Eight out of ten Footsie 100 companies are EMC customers, while elsewhere in Europe more than a billion dollars a year are spent on its wares - and it's a market growing at an impressive 25% per annum.
As leading analysts Forrester put it in their storage report, released last month: "With storage making up 75% of a conventional server's purchase price, it's a case of the storage tail now wagging the computer dog. And EMC will be the 800-pound gorilla in the 2000s just as Microsoft was in the 1980s."
But there are major challenges ahead if EMC wants to retain its No.1 spot. Whereas previously its fortunes were aligned to the need for big iron storage systems, with the decline of the mainframe so has it been forced to shift its emphasis towards distributed computing and the midrange market.
Cheap and keen
And, as ever, lurking in the shadows is Microsoft, just about to unleash Windows 2000 and with it a need for cheap storage devices that can integrate with the new operating system across data centric networks, perhaps using Internet protocols.
At the Comdex show in Las Vegas next week, Ruettgers will share the stage with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, where it's likely they'll announce new plans to exploit EMC's Numa (non uniform memory architecture) technology - a legacy from Data General - as well the opportunities afforded by Windows 2000.
EMC's new ControlCenter software, allowing storage to be managed automatically across platform independent networks, is also likely to figure in the Comdex announcements. Revenues from are expected to account for a fifth of all income soon.
A worry for EMC is IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. Though EMC reckons to have about 60% of the market for mainframe storage with the rest shared by the other two, at the midrange end the market is far more divided and the battle more bloody, with several hard disk drive manufacturers - RAID device manufacturers included - in dire straits.
Fortunately for EMC, its expertise is in managing terabytes rather than gigabytes and, as the explosion in data gathering continues apace, so are more small to medium enterprises demanding its high-end Symmetrix power houses.
And that's before the .com industry is taken into account, where you're average Internet start-up is likely to consume 45 terabytes of space within just two years.
Ruettger says: "If we'd stayed in the mainframe market, instead of moving to the distributed side, our revenues would have only been about $1.5bn this year." Instead they're $5bn.
The big buy
Being flush allowed EMC to buy Data General, even if it was through a stock swap, though as part of the deal it means the storage giant can't divest itself of any of Data General's assets for two years, including its Aviion servers.
Though Aviion still generates a billion dollars of business a year, the fortunes of the proprietorial range are waning fast: next year revenues are likely to slip to $700m, and Ruettgers is already sharpening the pruning sheers.
Data General's Clariion storage business - catering for the midrange market and widely thought to be why EMC went ahead with the acquisition in the first place - is also to be repositioned.
Whereas previously 80% was sold through OEMs, next year it would be the other way round - with 80% sold directly by EMC, and perhaps the rest rebadged.
It was the thorny issue of rebadging the caused EMC to fall-out with Hewlett Packard. Until May this year it was EMC?s biggest reseller, but wanted to go a step further by badging EMC products as its own. When EMC said no, Hewlett climbed into bed with Hitachi instead - taking Ruettgers and his colleagues by complete surprise.
Now HP will have its badge on Hitachi high end storage products, though EMC's chief executive not only dismisses the rival offerings as "inferior" but claims they won't add to HP's bottom line profits anyway - the raison for HP's switch.
Meanwhile, Ruettgers has higher things on his mind like more acquisitions and equity stakes, the latest being a chunk of Siros Technologies, whose VSAL (Very Small Aperture Laser) optical storage technology is said to dramatically increase the number of bits that can be crammed onto disks.
Other companies like Unisys and NCR also might be on EMC's acquisition hit list, it's suggested: maybe even Oracle, with whom EMC has also just expanded its alliance to exploit ebusiness opportunities more effectively.
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