Dell is suffering from lagging PC demand. EMC is struggling to sell its high-end, proprietary storage arrays in an arena increasingly dominated by commodity hardware and software-defined storage.
So what do the two companies do? They fall back on a business model that was extremely profitable for both companies -- their decade-long reseller partnership.
The just-announced $67 billion deal, one for the Guinness Book of Records, will have to look vastly different from their previous hookup as the enemies these two companies face are vastly different from the battlefield four years ago.
The merger comes as no surprise. In 2011, Dell executives were already ruminating about whether EMC was ripe for the picking.
Today, however, EMC and Dell aren't up against companies selling data storage boxes and appliances. They're staring down Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Today, the name of the game is "services," as in infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). That's a lot different from four years ago, when EMC and Dell ended their partnership.
"The waves of change we now see in our industry are unprecedented and, to navigate this change, we must create a new company for a new era," EMC CEO Joe Tucci said in a press conference today.
"I believe that this transaction will put EMC and our terrific people in the best position possible to thrive in the new world order," Tucci added in a blog.
In 2001, the two industry giants entered into a partnership in order to fill gaps. EMC wanted to offer the entry-level storage products Dell had, and Dell wanted to upsell more higher-end products, so it resold EMC's midrange Clariion line of SAN arrays as well as its NAS servers. Over time, it also began selling Data Domain deduplication appliances and VNX NAS/SAN combo arrays.
Annually, EMC garnered 8% to 9% of its revenue from its relationship with Dell. For Dell, the partnership accounted for 50% of its storage revenue -- about 90% of it coming from the resale of EMC's midrange SANs arrays and the rest coming from high-end Symmetrix storage systems.
As the partnership matured over the years, industry pundits speculated that the marriage couldn't last as co-opetition turned into competition. Dell continued to bring more upscale storage to the market, while EMC moved downstream with its own products, creating hotter competition between the two technology giants.
Further hurting the relationship, Dell in 2010 made an offer to buy 3PAR, a high-end storage company and a direct competitor to EMC. That deal fell through and 3PAR was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard.
In 2011, two years earlier than the reseller partnership was scheduled to end, EMC and Dell called it quits.
In the three years prior to the dissolution of the partnership, Dell invested more than $2 billion to expand its own family of storage products, much of which focused on storage virtualization and cloud-based data centers.
While Dell has the steering wheel in its buyout of EMC, it will hopefully recognize EMC's expertise in executing mergers and seek advice in how best to integrate the two companies. EMC is the merger king; it knows when to tightly integrate and when to keep its mitts off a company, as it did with VMware. By allowing VMware autonomy, it continued to thrive and was EMC's most profitable business unit.
Along with VMware, EMC has its storage business, its data center software business, VCE converged infrastructure unit and Pivotal, its Apache Hadoop distribution business. It also has RSA Security and an application development business.
Dell also brings to the table a wide array of entry-level and mid-range storage products, along with its massive server business, a security solutions division and a huge sales force.
These two companies have the expertise, sales force and technologies to make this merger work. As always, the proof will be in the execution.