EMC’s Eric Herzog on Bullseyes, Red-Eyes, and Tech Paranoia

A big EMC product announcement is a good excuse to get to know the company’s higher-ups.

Lord knows, I can’t keep up with the trade press and tech blogs that will dissect the data storage giant’s latest and greatest offering. But I can tell you about the man leading the charge today.

He is Eric Herzog, senior vice president of product management and product marketing. He worked at seven startups before joining EMC three years ago. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but commutes to headquarters in Hopkinton, MA, getting most of his sleep on red-eyes.

OK, here’s the product news, announced from Italy this morning. EMC (NYSE: EMC) is rolling out a new version of its mid-tier VNX technology. This is EMC’s bread and butter—a unified storage platform encompassing hardware and software—and it is in arguably the most competitive sector in storage. It’s also the biggest and fastest-growing market segment.

In a nutshell, the new product uses flash storage and software around flash, as well as Intel multi-core processors, to make storage faster and more efficient for big customers. EMC has used flash in its mid-range products for several years, but with this iteration the hardware and software have been redesigned.

Eric Herzog, SVP at EMCHerzog (pictured) calls the new VNX a “revolution of what we’ve been doing.” He also says it’s the biggest product launch in the past three or four years, possibly for all of EMC. “We’re in the lead already, and we want to extend our market share,” he says.

Some of that might be marketing bluster, but it’s clear this product line is crucial to EMC’s future as a leader in storage. “We’ve got a giant bullseye painted on our back,” Herzog says.

Since he comes from a long line of startups, I asked Herzog for his take on the competitive landscape—and who EMC worries about disrupting the market. “We need to fend off the $5-6 billion companies,” he says. “Mid-tier is critical to the company.”

Herzog, who says he’s been doing storage since 1985, has also logged time at IBM and Maxtor. Five of the seven startups he worked at were acquired. “You can really see, when you’re the guy being acquired, which guys get it and which don’t,” he says. “You can tell which guys blow it, and which acquisitions are a waste.”

One thing he learned from the startup world, he says (channeling his inner Andy Grove), is that “only the paranoid survive.” He adds, “If you get too big for your britches, you end up losing. The key is to make sure you keep that fire in your belly.”

EMC has done a good job of that, he says, but Apple might be the best example of the tech industry’s ups and downs. Back in the day, Herzog had a chance to join Apple but was concerned that the company was going under. Later, of course, it “came out of nowhere” and re-emerged as the world’s leading tech company with the iPhone and other smash-hit products. Yet today there’s uncertainty around its future. “Now it’s about Apple losing its magic fairy dust,” Herzog says.

The ultimate lesson for EMC? “Whether we acquire a technology or develop it, we have to make sure we’re meeting the business needs of the CIOs, whether it’s a global enterprise or Herzog’s Bar and Grill,” he says.

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