Voices in Data Storage – Episode 18: A Conversation with Pierluca Chiodelli of Dell EMC

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In this episode host Enrico Signoretti discusses Dell EMC and the myriad ways they work with and in data storage with VP of Product Management Pierluca Chiodelli.


Pierluca Chiodelli Vice President of Product Management Storage Portfolio & Customer Operations. Pierluca Chiodelli is currently the VP of Product Management for Storage Portfolio and Customer Operations.

Pierluca’s organization oversees the Portfolio Strategy for the Storage BU and is leading the technical resources across the major storage products. The teams are responsible for creating a single storage portfolio vision and drive solutions to enable end users and service providers to transform their operations and deliver information technology as a service.

Pierluca has been with Dell EMC since 1999, with experience in field support and core engineering across Europe and the Americas. Prior to joining EMC, he worked at Data General and as a consultant for HP Corporation. Pierluca holds one degree in Chemical Engineering and a second one in Information Technology.


Enrico Signoretti: Hello everybody and welcome to a new episode of Voices in Data Storage brought to you by GigaOm. I'm Enrico Signoretti, your host, and today I'm with Pierluca Chiodelli, from Dell EMC. He is a VP Product Management and customer operation for the storage platform. Hi Pierluca, how are you?

Pierluca Chiodelli: Hi. Thank you Enrico, thank you very much for inviting me. Very good. Very excited [about] what we have here at Dell Technology. So a lot of busy days here.

Yes indeed. I don't know if we want to start with a little bit of background about you. I don't think that Dell EMC needs any introduction.

Yes, I think that's good. Actually, I've been in the company for 20 years. Strangely enough, I joke about this because I came from three different companies. I started with Data General, so many, many years agoand I started in Italy where I'm from. And then they moved to the US with the EMC. So Data General was acquired by EMC in 1999. I worked on CLARiiON, and from there I was an engineer and main product manager, so I worked in our families: the VNX one, VNX two. I've been a part of the Unity [product line], and then obviously the merge happened with Dell, so I had the honor and pleasure two years ago to the entire midrange products from legacy Dell, legacy EMC: Compellent to Equallogic and all the other things. Right? So I joke that I changed really four different companies, but it's been a long journey and career. Very excited, I mean there is a lot of new stuff every day.

Yeah especially at this show. We saw a lot of interesting things. I was very skeptical in the beginning when Dell acquired EMC. Many were skeptical, and being able to integrate it: two large entities with a very strong culture like Dell and EMC together, it was a really tough job. And it looks like you're doing very well.

We're doing extremely well. So to just point it out, the first time where we met with Michael Dell and I think one of the surprises, if you remember the first Dell EMC work that we did together as one company, Michael Dell was saying... “There is no surprise” in the sense that everything went smoothly. We are together; we're building a company together.

I think now from the vision we aim to really need the execution more and we were able also with the Dell technology as you can see the change we have here in the show: Dell Tech. It's our umbrella and this umbrella is actually bigger than everything else, so it's not just storage only, but it's the collaboration with the VMware that is stronger and strong and I think Michael Dell did an incredible job in doing that, and from the engineers’ side we did an incredible job in focusing our self in innovation and in the future.

One feature that struck me from what Jeff Clark did, in his response for ISG, was looking at EMC at the time and looking at the entire portfolio we had and looking at the Dell portfolio that we had and the number of people that are and R&D that we spend, but we was not able to innovate a lot because we were spending a lot of time to sustain products and this is changed.

So the incredible things of transformation that we bring in as engineers allow us to be focused on innovation, and I mean the proof is in this show, I think is that it's the first time that we see so much news and big news, right? We just announced the new Unity SD. I mean that's not just the Unity, but we announced also a cloud capability for the entire storage portfolio, but also connected to the VMware.

Right. So new products as you said and not just the Unity because there isn't any iteration that are actually real new products and a lot of Isilon and a lot of VMAX, PowerMax now. It was incredible because usually you think for example about NVMe over fabric and that you are the primary vendor that are always a little bit behind the startups, but actually NVMe over fabric is something really new. It's happening now and you are there. So it's quite interesting.

On the other side I agree with you that integration with VMware is bringing a lot to the table. But that's my impression at least. I don't know even if it's HCI, which is very, very positive with their mid-range young companies. Yes there was an iteration of a Unity, but all that range of the product line up is a little bit messy and I don't see a huge development there. I know that there is something coming on that that’s sizable right?

Yeah I mean we did the public statement that we are working on simplifying our portfolio. I think we are working on a next gen product, but we are not fooling ourselves in the sense that we have the largest portfolio in the world and we have the majority of the market share. So that product that will come out will be a product that will address specific things in our mid range market at the beginning, and we want to make sure that we bring the customer to the latest technology in the product that we have today.

So we will keep investing in the current product and then we will do something different; something that will allow us to have every platform for the next 20 years where we can build that kind of innovation. So but we will do it in different steps. So we are very clear that the portfolio we have today is very strong and we keep investing in that, but also we are very clear that we want to simplifywhere it's right to simplify, because products are built to address certain areas of the market. One product doesn't fit all. So that's not our mantra and it's clear, right?

You see how our unstructured business, so you mention Isilon, but also we have ECS, is the most growing business right now. Storage is growing. But you have design philosophy that are different for each one of the use cases that you tried to solve. So again mid-range: obviously we have very successful product as you as you see today in the show, Unity, but we have brought very successful products. We have NVMe, Unity NVMe already, but also we have NVMe on PowerMax and SCM coming on PowerMax.

So we will be very, very upfront with PowerMax to be our leading high end storage, and in the mid range, we will look at the ability to offer always the best price. And sometimes it doesn't mean that it's one product, but the best coverage also of the Unify experience, the simplicity, the ability to have better performance at a cheaper price. So for that we use the product that we have today, but then we will add this new product that will come off as different with new capability and that as the time goes will acquire a much more traditional capability. If I may say, okay.

Yeah. Okay. So let's let's recap a little bit. So you have a very, very complex strategy, meaning Powermax. This is good because you have a loyal customer on the platformhigh end customers, and this is probably the easiest part of the strategy. Then there is the complexity of having multiple product line apps converging at one time because you probably have a loyal customer for a Compellent and Unity and stuff and a new productyou will have this new product alongside ours that will stay for much longer.

Yes. Let me say one thing that the new product is actually... we create a new product with the essence of the products that we have today. So it's a new product, yes, but will have ability and capability that we have today in our products. Now for addressing different markets in the emerging market for example, and other things, there's still need for example... It's very important I believe, [that] it's not all about NVMe. Right?

So as our and other competitors, we still sell a lot of spinning media now. Flash is absolutely important, but in the entry level off the midrange space where, for example, we decide that we have power hold in the entry level now, there is a price band where you still rely on hybrid. So it's not really entry entry, but these are like low/mid range where you need to have the right technology to address that kind of market.

On the top of the mid range is where you have a tendency to want to use NVMe and stuff like that, but in a different way from where we’re using PowerMax. The use of very, very fast devices for system memory that we see will be used to offer the best dollar per IOPS, meaning performance and efficiency. So that's where we are fast.

OK. The first focus will be new technology. For sure you will support VMware but also now containers, so CSI...

I mean that's a reality today. So here in the show, we had presented a lot of news about the DevOps stuff that we are doing. So we are focusing on having for our entire portfolio a tighter integration, (a) with the vRO (b) with Ansible and with containers. So container is a fundamental thing that we are integrating and we announce CSI container support for XtremIO. We had pre- announced for PowerMax and we will keep adding this capability because it's fundamental to be able to consume our infrastructure in a modern way.

Also this new product has a different approach compared to what happened in the past in EMC and in the most important products, except that Powermax, which comes from the original EMC, all the other products were acquisitions coming from acquisitions, and both for Dell and EMCthose components as an acquisition. EqualLogic was an acquisition.

Now you are talking about developing a new product. There is a change in strategy from this point of view. All your competitors, the big names, are acquiring more than developing. So what brought the company to make this kind of decision?

So definitely we will take a different approach here in our organization. And as you saw from Jeff Clark’s keynotes, transforming is not just adopting new technology but transforming how people work. And we learn that looking inside our organization where all the IP we had in everything we had was not leveraged across the entire organization.

So one of the key things is (a) put the people where the innovation is, so definitely we transform the way we develop. We share IP internally and also what gets people excited. So I think it was an incredible experience for me going through this transformation and the fact that you can tangibly transform not only the technology but the workforce. So that's why the decision was to build inside of the company versus acquiring, and it doesn't mean that we will not in the future also do that. It’s an “and”it's not an “or.”

OK. And as I said, it's very interesting because now you see this change in strategy and the organization looks more cohesive than in the past. Also from the sales perspective, is it changing a little bit the way you propose your storage lineup to the customer? Or we are still... because at the very beginning, I remember EMC and Dell. But you know maybe something is changing...

I think you pointed out something that we saw in the beginning. It was ‘ok who liked Dell product goes with Dell products,’ ‘who was EMC, goes with EMC.’ Now actually our sales guy also transforms, right? And the amazing thing is they really embraced the power of the portfolio that also today is a base on Dell EMC product.

And if you see in this show, we call Dell Technology a lot. So Dell Technology is the overarching umbrella in Dell. EMC is really the storage, right? It's amazing to see to me specifically in our customer base where customers start to adopt and they are adopting everyday multiple products. And there is not any more of that line of demarcation: this is a... you know, it was a Dell, this was EMC, also because we did stuff to make the product more seamless and more family.

So if I look for example at Compellent and Unity, we brought Unisphere on Compellent, with the same look and feel; and we brought from Compellent for example, a technology that we had in Compellent that was the method rate. And we we brought on Unity. So there was a cross-pollination that you're going to see more and more coming out. And to your point, in that way you also... the engineers can work together as a single organization.

Yes. So can we expect at the center point, better integration between the different lineups? One of the problems of the old EMC was that all the products were totally different, and they were unable to talk with each other. And it was a little bit frustrating.

Now with all this strategy change, I find that you are developing new products in/outs and you are finally rationalizing everything. Maybe we can also expect some some way to communicate between other midrange [products] and PowerMax for example.

Absolutely. So if you look at our portfolio at the end of the day, as I told you at the beginning of the podcast, it's not just about the product that we have in the storage portfolios, but both about what is around, because the customer really use products to solve a problem. It's not using the product because the products look nicer than another one. That's not the fundamental case.

And what makes the product important is the ecosystem and the way we use that product, so more familyness that we have, more ecosystem we through vRO, Ansible, Kubernetes that we announced here and then the VMware plug in, much [more] flexible it becomes to leverage the top performer. Not only that, we obviously are looking to have data mobility across the portfolio. In that vision, the portfolio, the workload, would move from the edge to the core to the cloud. And when I say “move from the edge to the core to the cloud,” the fundamental piece of that underlying architecture is the storage. So we see example of that in what we announced today here with our cloud strategy: the ability to consume cloud as a service, cloud volumes as a service, the ability to have Powermax, Unity in the cloud, and to be able to do disaster recovery for example, and the ability to do it with EMC. So yes absolutely, we are not only building the familyness, we are building technology around the entire portfolio.

So we're talking about the past [and] the present. What about the future? What do you see as the next big challenge for Dell EMC?

More than a challenge, I think we have a ton of opportunities. This is me speaking, I feel from a strategic point of view: storage is the fundamental building block of the infrastructure. But if I look at the opportunity, the opportunity is at the Dell Technology level. To me it's amazing to be in a company that can offer everything. The important thing is the opportunity, offer also the entire stack end to end, integrated in everything that we do. So in some sense we want the storage to be part of this automated virtualized new infrastructure that also includes cloud, and that's where we're going to invest a lot.

You see the first glance of that with VCF, you see that the ability to move workload, leveraging the entire VMware stack, but also leveraging storage, persistent container PKS with pivotal If we are able to leverage all these things in a very simple manner then I think we are unstoppable as a company because the opportunity is there and we are working on the right things. Data management, being able to offer the data in the right place at the right time with the right SLA is everything, but data means that they stay on the infrastructure and to be automating infrastructure, you need to be automated and simple to deploy and respond on ‘on demand’ change.

So if I look at the market today, you made a totally different choice compared to your direct competitors like HP. So they tried to split their organization focusing on the single transformation. What you are adopting [is] a very broad strategy covering other things. And we are going to a new area with very, very few organizations like yours. I can think of Huawei for example, in China. So they are a huge $100 billion company.

They do everything; they are more focused on telco than Dell of course, but actually, do you see that the biggest market challenge will come from Huawei or the few others that are having your kind of strategy or it will be more general? By in general, I mean the cloud or there's more focused competitors because maybe we can think about the cloud as a horizontal platform and companies like you are the organizations that are working vertically on these things, but is it more a challenge from how the market is going to move? Or is it more a challenge about the kind of competitor you're facing?

I think I don't like the word challenge. It's more about the opportunity that we have there to take. I mean I understand you want me to comment on competitors, but I will not comment specifically on competitors. What I can say is to me, our goal is to offer and be the connectivity of the Internet infrastructure. And when we say that, we say that with the convinced fact that we can connect all the pieces of infrastructure and those pieces, by the way, the cloud runs on something that is infrastructure.

Oh yes. This is why...

So this is a big myth. It's like the cloud is in some place, [when] actually the cloud runs on infrastructure. By the way, I think the cloud reality is there is a public cloud but in our case, in the market that we try to address, really the reality of today [is] it's in hybrid cloud. Being in this industry for many years and the pendulum swings one way and then comes back and it's stopping someplace that is in the middle. Why is that? Because you need security; you are tied to regulation; you are tied to deployment model. Any people like our customers they'd like to keep control of what they do. So to that I said I feel there is only an opportunity to get bigger and bigger and bigger on the hybrid cloud that is a reality.

I didn't meet any customer here in these days that tells me “I'm going completely into the cloud and I'm not going to have any kind of internal infrastructure.” The things that they're looking to do is using the cloud when it makes sense, versus IO and stuff like that but also in that case they are looking to leverage our storage for running those workflows. They may use the compute in the cloud for the bursting of the activity, but they're not looking to run that every time everywhere because it's very costly and in some cases doesn't make sense because the cap ex and op ex make sense in another place.

So again, the opportunity for usand you're right, we did a different approach also here from other competitors that you mentioned that they split and they feel that can be more focusedI think we proved that to actually be the provider of the entire infrastructure is a win-win. I mean looking at our numbers, we proved that the market is reacting very positively to this.

And people, as much as they like to have multiple vendors in their organization, they don't like the challenge of having multiple vendors. And that's why the cloud in some cases will also appeal to them, because the cloud is the place, if you're not going to move to cloud for a certain use case is one vendor. Right now you want to be locked into one vendor that you don't own anything or you want to control your information and that's where we play. And again VMware in the Dell Technologies are a fundamental stack that we can deploy seamlessly on prem and in the cloud.

Well yes I mean VMware is some other key application for you because it's uploading very quickly from on-premises solution only to a solution that you can deploy everywhere. And the tight integration that you have at the stack level, even if VMware remains open to everybody, gives you some leverage for discussion. So it's very interesting to see this evolution of that relationship between Dell and VMware, because I think customers like the idea that they can do whatever they want, but actually, they can also find a ‘one stop shop’ where they can buy on credit.

And to your point, people don't have the luxury anymore to have a storage mean and networking mean and security mean. The applications are changing, so the one stop shop’s sometimes is a necessity because you want to invest in people that are doing a new one; you want to invest in the new organizations that have transformed the people to organizations that they deploy NoSQL database or something else, that is more... containerized application that they are traditional now and bringing them in the more agile microservice environment that that's really the key there.

So you don't want to spend 80% of your time to try to manage your own infrastructure. The infrastructure needs to adapt and needs to be intelligent to adapt to the change of the application, without even having sometimes a human dimension because you know as Jeff Clark explained on stage, the different generation we have now: millennials, Generation Z and stuff like that. They may not even understand... [when] they run a command, they don't ask themselves “what is in the background of that command?”

Maybe us in our generation, we used to understand that there are a sort of scripting or manifest that we need to process and do it. But the development of today, you Google this stuff and you look at YouTube and he gets the answer. So that's where you want to appeal to this new generation because they are the guys of tomorrow that are going to build this application that we own.

Can we think about the simplification then? So on one side you have organizations that are really business data driven, and the infrastructure for these guys is just a component that should never create any kind of issue. And so that is winning there because they can give you that hybrid stack, and that's it. On that side we have a data driven organization, but in this case, data is their business, and they need an infrastructure, and this is where Dell EMC, with all the product portfolio and all the solutions can win, because you can go deeper, and analyze better the infrastructure and optimize infrastructure...

So I think to me, and again this is coming from a very storage centric thing, but to me the realization of how Dell really is in everything that we do and how it is starting with a sensor and automation in manufacturing, that there are things I didn't even know before. It's an amazing thing, so we are really changing how the people consume multiple things, and we do it with data driven applications. We are working with 5G, the explosion of the data of 5G. 5G as explosion of the data is not just an explosion of the data, it's the analytics that you need to run on 5G, so we are there.

And so, think about this: we are offering in some way an end to infrastructure that is easy to deploy and easy to manage, but then also, we are investing in the cases, in the specific use cases: AI, ML, data driven things, we are now seeing our servers with GPUs. Think about that: combined with isql, in a ready solution offering so you can run your entire analytics. We are very present in video surveillance; we have analytics and facial recognition and things which are very important today. Everything is changing but I think that the advantage here is that we can offer that special build solution for addressing that use case. And we can build it on our infrastructure, so it's a win-win.

Very good then, thank you very much for this very interesting and insightful conversation about Dell, about Dell Technologies and EMC. Just to wrap up the episode, maybe you could give us a couple of Twitter handles or websites, so we can look at the new things that are coming from Dell Technologies on the EMC side.

Absolutely. So I think if you went to the Dell EMC website, obviously they are live on the show, and you're going to have a lot of replay of what we have. We have also here a live feed, and I think all of our leaders including myself, we did podcasts and stuff like that, so, I think we have plenty of information on the web. We have plenty of blogs as well, that go into detail. If I mention one: Joe CaraDonna, I mean he's our CTO for cloud. Joe CaraDonna has a blog that he went out describing the cloud announcement in detail in what we're doing and what we're not doing. I mean if you guys have the time to spend, I think those are very detailed, as we like, information about what is really behind that, and by the way, all the white papers, all the videos on Youtube, I mean there are thousands and thousands of different things that we have, and if you follow me as well, I always tweet and post on my profile most of the things. My twitter is @CHIODP, that is my user name, and that is my Twitter, so you can follow me, and I normally post everything that I think is relevant from Dell EMC.

Great, thank you again, and I will talk to you again soon.

Take care.

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