EMC’s Innovation Steward: CTO Jeff Nick Talks Company Strategy Amid Soaring Profits, Rumors of Big Acquisition

It has been a ridiculously busy week for EMC—and for everyone else, it seems. For starters, the Hopkinton, MA-based data storage giant (NYSE: EMC) announced record quarterly revenues for the third quarter of 2010. Yesterday the firm hosted its fourth annual innovation conference from its center in Cork, Ireland—which amounted to a company-wide session on strategy and research, the largest of these gatherings to date, involving 15 EMC facilities worldwide. And in other news, the rumor mill has been buzzing with talk about EMC being a possible acquirer of Seattle-based storage firm Isilon Systems (NASDAQ: ISLN), in a deal that reportedly could be worth upward of $2 billion.

Amid all this activity, EMC chief technology officer Jeff Nick took some time to talk with me last week about the company’s broader innovation strategy—tackling aspects that are internally and externally focused, home-grown and acquisition-based. Like IBM (NYSE: IBM), one of its main competitors, EMC is known as an aggressive acquirer of companies, using new businesses to further its technology and attack new markets—witness its recent purchases of Mozy, Greenplum, and Data Domain. But it’s also known for pursuing some pretty interesting in-house initiatives aimed at turning cutting-edge research into technologies and services that its product groups can use.

Unlike big tech companies such as IBM and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), EMC doesn’t have a big traditional research organization charged with advancing the state of the art in technology. Instead, EMC pursues more of a virtual model—an “innovation network” (run by Burt Kaliski, formerly of RSA) that consists of virtual centers as well as a few physical research facilities, and collaborations and partnerships with academic researchers at places like MIT, Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, University of Michigan, and Tsinghua University in Beijing. The topics of its R&D projects include things like scalable file systems, Internet cloud security, and data availability on peer-to-peer networks.

In our recent chat, Nick didn’t deviate too much from his message about EMC’s innovation network and conference, but I did get him to open up a little about how the firm balances its in-house R&D with its acquisition efforts, how it works with and thinks about startups and smaller businesses, … Next Page »

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