The digital era could be a bigger wave than the industrial revolution, CEO Joe Tucci told EMC World attendees today in Las Vegas. Instead of getting crushed by the digital wave -- the way Google disrupted newspapers -- it's time for IT to go on the offense, Tucci and his executive team told roughly 14,000 attendees and thousands of online viewers.

Much of the effort going forward will involve modern skills that infuse agile software development within enterprises, EMC executives said.

Still, EMC  -- like its customers -- faces plenty of challenges as the digital, big data, analytics and converged infrastructure waves continue to build. Tucci's keynote ultimately highlighted the EMC Federation -- a network of sister companies that includes Pivotal, RSA, VCE and VMware. Piece it all together, and you have solutions for the digital era, EMC asserts.

If only it were that simple. Among the challenges: EMC must stay open -- integrating with a range of third-party hardware and software. At the same time, EMC must compete with hardware and software stacks from Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. Perhaps most of all: EMC must reduce the complexity of corporate IT solutions, while also addressing potential product overlap within its own product portfolio. 

True Believers

Some customers are embracing EMC's complete stack approach.

Energy Future Holdings, for instance, spent 2009 through 2014 focused on the virtualization era -- consolidating the Texas utility's physical server infrastructure by 38 percent and reducing from three data centers to two. A the same time, virtualized servers increased seven-fold, and virtualized storage increased eight-fold, according to Paul Reyes, VP of infrastructure management and operations. The data center strategy is built atop EMC's federated company technology.

Looking ahead, Energy Future Holdings will spend 2015 through 2020 focus on a services-led strategy. The company is rolling out automated and dynamic server provisioning on-premises, essentially allowing business users and developers to turn on -- and off -- the services they need at will, Reyes said.

Agile Software Development

Meanwhile, EMC and its federation members announced a range of open source initiatives -- while also vowing to interoperate with third-party offerings.

Ultimately, however, all roads need back to software -- and enterprise software development done in-house. "Businesses need to know that modern IT requires a re-discovery of software development," said Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz. "We want to do development with you -- not for you. The goal is all the expertise gets taken back home -- into your business - to give you a modern agile software development culture."

The prime example: Tesla, which is developing compelling software and digital experiences -- and not just hardware (cars), said Maritz. He pointed to Pivotal Cloud Foundry as an ideal platform upon which to build those new enterprise apps.

Maritz also pointed to the Open Data Platform (ODP) standards group as a way to leverage Hadoop in a binary-compatible way across multiple distributions. (Still, ODP also faces some industry skepticism from MapR and others.)

Here Come Data Lakes

As businesses build new apps and manage more forms of data, EMC is calling on customers to build so-called Enterprise Business Data Lakes -- repositories that store all forms of data. Dig a little deeper, and offerings like EMC's InfoArchive provide compliance and security capabilities to data lakes, according to Product Marketing Manager Bryant Bell.

While data lakes could solve some information silo and big data challenges, data lakes also introduce at least three new business challenges, Gartner has noted.

The True Challenge: Complexity

Poke around EMC World and listen to the Q&A sessions, and you'll hear a common theme involving a single word: Complexity.

Industry analysts and journalists asked EMC executives over and over again how specific EMC products fit together, where they overlap and how they interact with third-party solutions. EMC certainly answered the questions -- explaining, for instance, how VCE Vblocks compare to new VCE VxRacks. Still, some observers weren't completely satisfied by the answers amid potential product overlap.

Innovate vs. Public Clouds

The key challenge for EMC and its large enterprise IT rivals: Introducing next-generation hardware, software and app development solutions that speed customers' time to market and offset instant-on cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft and others.

Energy Future Holdings, for one, remains convinced that EMC can empower customers for the digital age. As part of an internal ROI analysis of public clouds vs on-premises EMC stacks, Energy Future Holdings saw major cost and performance benefits as virtual workloads increased, Reyes said.

Hence, the company decided to consolidate around two on-premises data centers -- which are now being upgraded to offer turnkey automation and dynamic provisioning. That effort should speed DevOps, Reyes said, allowing Energy Future Holdings to ride the digital wave.

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