HOPKINTON, Mass. — EMC Monday opened the doors on a hosting facility where it will showcase how it is helping marquee customers like Burger King, Ford and MGM manage the storage of mission-critical data.

The “”Proven Solutions”” Center is

a 60,000 sq.-ft. building which includes two 5,000 sq.-ft. data centres where EMC will be providing proof-of-concept demonstrations of its hardware and software portfolio, executives told media during a two-day briefing here. So far about 35 clients are hosting their storage at the centre, representing about 175TB of capacity on an 1,100-port storage area network (SAN). A ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the centre.

Although most potential EMC clients will only be able to catch a glimpse of the locked-down data centres through thick windows, they will see a mix of Dell, Sun and even old Compaq products. The hallways of the Proven Solutions Center are lined with graphical representations that explain how EMC can configure storage hardware and software to meet clients’ needs. An adjacent lab, meanwhile, will allow EMC to set up prototypes (like an e-mail archiving solution, for example) where customers can actually sit down at a console and test them out for themselves.

The Proven Solutions Center is part of EMC’s strategy to show the expanded breadth of its product range beyond its traditional expensive, high-end boxes and the additional software capabilities it has gained through the acquisition of content management firm Documentum and backup software specialist Legato last year.

EMC executive vice-president of operations David Goulden said the Solutions Center will become a repository for reference architectures to help customers move to what the company calls an “”information lifecycle management”” (ILM) model that turns to different kinds of storage devices depending on how the data is being used. For example, customers may need to store some data in a way that it can be readily accessed in the short-term, while other data may need to be archived for years in order to meet regulatory requirements.

“”You don’t need the same infrastructure at every stage (of the information’s lifecycle),”” Goulden said.

The Proven Solutions Center includes customers like Savatar, which provides switching services for long distance plans. The company uses Encore software to record an individual’s voice when they agree to switch plans, stores it in near-term storage for 90 days, then archives it on an EMC Centera system.

EMC said ILM is a customer-driven strategy based in part on the growing volume of unstructured data including images, e-mail and video that is making its way into the enterprise. Goulden said data is growing at a minimum of 40 per cent each year in most organizations, and as much as 60 per cent in others.

That trend, plus the overall decline in hardware margins, has led EMC to place more emphasis on software, which is why last week it formed a Software Group composed of the Legato/Documentum business units. It has also led to a culture change, Goulden said, that will allow EMC to act more like a consultant than it has in the past.

“”We had a reputation, certainly among our customers, of being a little bit arrogant,”” Goulden admitted. “”Customers expect suppliers to work in what I would call a co-opetition mode, and we’re certainly doing that.””

IDC research director of storage software Bill North said enterprise IT spending on storage has increased to more than a third of the overall storage budget in the last few years. Software is critical, he said, because many IT managers are being asked to manage twice the level of storage with the same number of employees. Regulations, meanwhile, are starting to govern not only how long information is stored but how quickly it must be accessed (an important factor, considering it can take days to get some data off tape) and whether or not it can be changed in any way.

“”It’s important to remember that information lifecycle management is a process, not a product,”” he said, adding that a lot of customers are just getting started on the path to ILM, with only two-thirds of enterprises that have even networked their storage. “”In the future we’ll see a lot more on that path.””

EMC plans to use the Proven Solutions Center as a sort of incubator where customers can fine-tune their ILM strategy and then eventually take their storage back in-house, executives said. The facility is at about 50 per cent capacity.

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