Symmetrix daddy Moshe Yanai on chair-throwing and storage

From EMC to IBM, XIV to Diligent, the Symmetrix inventor is still going hard at 68


Glory days – EMC and Symmetrix

Yanai joined EMC in 1987. Dave Vellante, then at IDC, describes the scene: "In the 1980s when Moshe Yanai was leading a team of engineers at Nixdorf designing systems compatible with IBM mainframes, IBM was the IT business back then. Nixdorf killed the project and in 1987 Dick Egan, EMC's Chairman, CEO and cofounder, picked up Moshe and his team.

"My first direct contact with an Israeli R&D team was that same year when this guy named Moshe showed up at my offices at IDC in Framingham with about five of his team members. We met for 3+ hours talking about IBM mainframes, the MVS operating system, System 370 channel command words and CKD track formats. Fourteen months later EMC marketing returned to my offices to show us Symmetrix. My jaw dropped.

"The marriage of Moshe's development team and EMC's sales force has become legendary in the storage business. I remember people – really smart people – saying that what EMC was trying to do would fail. I'm quite sure Moshe and his Israeli friends heard that a lot, and it drove them to succeed. I think it's a cultural trait based on my small sample of Israeli friends – tell them it's impossible and they'll prove you wrong – or at least go the extra distance trying."

Yanai recruited Technion graduates, one of them, as a previous Register article said, being ex-IDF fighter pilot Dani Golan who later went on to co-found and run all-flash array vendor Kaminario.

A Technion history document said: "Yanai led the company's development engineers, a team of several thousand people, and recruited heavily among Technion graduates. His team, working at EMC headquarters just outside Boston, became known as the 'kibbutz.' It was famous for the 6pm dinner bell. When it sounded, the whole team sat down together for supper, like at a kibbutz... and then continued working late into the night."

It's rumoured that his pay package included a percentage of the money from every Symmetrix array sold. The array, introduced in 1990, was astonishingly successful. By 1995 it represented 41 per cent of disk terabytes for mainframes with IBM's own arrays accounting for 35 per cent.

It was not all sunshine and roses. A Forbes article says: "1988 – EMC suffers its first annual loss ($7.8 million) when its first disk-based storage product for the IBM mainframe market repeatedly failed after it was installed. It took 18 months (and another loss of $18.5 million in 1989) before the problem was traced to disk drives that were shipped to EMC with specks of face powder (the assemblers were not properly trained) that caused them to fail randomly. In response, EMC institutes company-wide quality and continuous improvement programs and becomes ISO-certified."

The glory days come to a hard stop

Then EMC decided to buy Data General's mid-range, dual-controller CLARiiON array business. It's rumoured that Yanai fought against this acquisition. Haaretz wrote: "According to The Wall Street Journal, this step did not pass uncontested within the company. Joseph Tucci, now EMC's CEO, supported the move. Moshe Yanai, however, who headed the R&D department, opposed it, and feared that the switch would hurt hardware sales. Tucci decided to implement the change and Yanai left the company."

We wrote: "Joe Tucci had become EMC CEO in January 2001, after joining as president and COO in 2000. (Tucci replaced Michael Ruettger, the previous CEO, and then forced Moshe Yanai out later in 2001, earlier having moved him into an advisory position.)

"Symmetrix technology had fallen behind the competition (in not using Fibre Channel, for example), and lower-cost CLARiiON (what became VNX) array sales and development hadn't been prioritised. Tucci started cleaning out EMC's stables in response to a severe revenue downturn as customers stopped buying Symmetrix arrays.

"Revenues slumped from $8.9bn in 2000 to $6.8bn in 2001. Cuts had to be made. About 10,000 staff were laid off out of a total 26,000. The blood-letting started in May, two months before Golan joined."


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