Next week is the first EMC World since EMC was assimilated into Dell, and if you are one of the storage faithful making the annual trek out to Vegas, you are probably already coming with questions.  This first Dell-EMC World is a great opportunity to really get a sense for whether the new Dell-EMC is the storage company that deserves your business for the next decade.

While you likely already have your own questions, if we were going to Vegas, here are the ones we’d ask:

1. XtremIO vs. VMAX – which is the real Tier1 bet?
EMC’s strategy for Tier1 block has been inconsistent and confusing, at best.  If you were at EMC World in 2014, you probably got the distinct impression that VMAX was over and XtremIO was the future (anyone remember the $1M guarantee?), but just two years later there was nary a mention of XtremIO with all the attention on the new All-Flash VMAX. And sales reflected this shift. According to IDC, XtremIO sales were down -27.7% year-over-year in 2016, as EMC pivoted focus back to VMAX, realizing perhaps that selling retrofit flash was easier than maturing their purpose-built all-flash platform.  What will 2017 bring, and where should your investment go?

2. DSSD – what happened?

For the past two years at EMC World, DSSD was touted as the next big thing, promising an “order of magnitude improvement” and “insane low latency.”  Michael Dell even called DSSD “a game changer” a few months ago at Dell World. Unfortunately, it was storage for the 0.01% – expensive, exotic, low on scale, and non-existent on software data services. Abruptly, last month, DSSD appears to be gone (at least as a stand-alone product). The go-forward plan is to apparently integrate DSSD NVMe technology into other EMC products, which one has to imagine means another retrofit coming for VMAX. Meanwhile, if you want affordable NVMe today, that’s non-disruptively backward compatible with the products you previously purchased from Pure, we have you covered.

3. XtremIO X2 – Can you get there from here?
Industry rumors seem to indicate that a new “X2” version of XtremIO is coming.  It’s time. XtremIO is really, really due for a hardware refresh as the core hardware hasn’t substantially evolved since GA in 2013. Even XtremIO’s spec sheet is pushing 2 years old. The X2 story has been an interesting one, as the marquee feature seemed to be native file integration, as publicized at Dell World, and regularly tweeted about by the XtremIO team. Then a few weeks ago, news surfaced that project was halted. As we contemplate new XtremIO hardware, questions about upgradability come to mind, as such issues have plagued XtremIO customers in the past. In a world where customers still can’t mix 10, 20, and 40TB X1 bricks in a cluster (is that really scale-out?), will existing X1 customers even be able to adopt new X2 bricks? Will X2 support NVMe flash capacity? Will the move to X2 be non-disruptive and will customers be able to trade-in X1 bricks for X2 bricks? Since XtremIO’s GA, Pure has shipped three generations of FlashArray hardware, 12 software releases, and introduced NVMe flash capacity, all non-disruptively and fully-upgradable. This is the new standard.

4. VNX vs. Dell Compellent (vs. Nutanix vs. vSAN) – which is the mid-range bet?

Things get even murkier at the mid-range.  First, assuming Dell will eventually consolidate into one mid-range platform, choosing between EMC Unity and Dell Compellent is a non-obvious choice. Both Compellent and VNX/Unity are large, multi- $100M businesses. Compellent has a solid user base in Dell, but hasn’t been ultra-aggressive about retrofitting for flash. Unity, on the other hand, is a new reincarnation of VNX/CLARiiON with a flash focus and (allegedly) a new codebase. We’re not sure you should bet the farm (er, cattle ranch) on it yet. Meanwhile – there’s a bigger skeleton in the strategy closet – hyper-converged. It would seem that Dell needs to consolidate product lines to re-pay debt, and as a server company, maybe hyper-converged looks like a good bet for these Tier 2 / Tier 3 and smaller customer workloads? If you read Chad Sakac’s blog – that certainly seems to be Dell’s strategic direction. Leading analysts have encouraged Dell EMC customers to seek written guarantees that their selected product isn’t facing a near-term end of life. If your Compellent or VNX array is up for refresh, there’s never been a better time to push to understand Dell’s go-forward strategy before you make another 3-5 year investment.

5. Nutanix? VCE Vblocks?  How long will Dell resell multiple competing products?

Dell has always been nothing if not pragmatic – focused on whatever product drives sales vs. squabbling over who invented it. In fact, this pragmatism led to years of relatively peaceful resale of EMC VNX by Dell in the 2000s. But, Dell also knows that long-term customer relationships matter, and OEM products are not the path to long-term customer loyalty. So it’s instructive to look at what happened to that VNX resale deal. Eventually it was dissolved, Dell tried to acquire 3PAR and eventually did acquire Compellent to replace it (and amusingly, Dell is once again facing the Compellent vs. VNX choice). Fast forward to today, and there are two very obvious “inconvenient partnerships” in the Dell product lineup – reselling Nutanix (in competition w/ VMware vSAN) and selling VCE Vblock solutions with Cisco servers and networking, in competition with Dell servers.  How long will these  last?  If I were a customer who wanted Nutanix, I’d buy it directly from Nutanix.  If I wanted hyper-converged from Dell, I’d buy VxRAIL.  And if I was a customer running a lot of VCE, I’d be really questioning the long-term roadmap of that stack.

6. Isilon Nitro – Ready for Prime Time?

Last year at our //Accelerate conference, Pure introduced FlashBlade – putting NetApp and EMC’s Isilon on notice that the world of high-performance storage for unstructured data was about to undergo some major disruption. Just a few weeks later at EMC World, EMC announced a competing product – Isilon Nitro. Nitro was so new, in fact, that it didn’t even make an appearance at EMC World on stage “in the hardware” – with EMC just showing some bezel renderings. Well, we can confirm that Nitro does in fact exist (we’ve competed with and beaten Nitro head-to-head in a few accounts already), but these first few Nitro encounters lead us to believe that the product is still early. It’s a year later, plenty of time to go from announcement to GA. We’ll be looking forward to hearing about Nitro customer adoption, roadmap and how much work was done to rewrite Isilon’s OneFS for flash vs. just another retrofit.

7. Does the storage fire still burn strong?

Finally, a softball question, but perhaps the most important one. Storage is all about trust. Trust that your vendor will have your back, trust that the support team rocks, trust that your relationship is valued, trust that the product you are betting on will have another decade of investment. So as you head to EMC World, it’s a great opportunity to feel out EMC leadership, both business and technical. How excited are they? How dedicated are they? Are they pumped-up for the next decade of innovation under the Dell family?

Have an awesome week in Vegas at Dell-EMC World, and if you’d like to make a compare, we’d love to have you in June to San Francisco for Pure//Accelerate.  You can bet we’ve got a few surprises up our sleeves!