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Two years ago, at the EMC Forum in Long Beach, Calif., the worlds of storage networking and VMware seemed a galaxy apart. The VMware guys huddled in distinct groups, had their own session track that had little to do with data storage, and spoke in a language that few in the larger storage camp could understand.
At this year's event (last week in Long Beach), all that changed. Not only were the VMware tracks more aligned via EMC's (NYSE: EMC) journey to the private cloud messaging, but the storage guys were now talking the same lingo. It seems that EMC has embraced the language of virtualization across its culture vSphere, vCenter, VCB, (VMware Consolidated Backup) and all the rest of the virtual-speak were part and parcel of EMC's own technical presentations about backup, Symmetrix and storage management.
EMC Forum also featured news of the imminent release of Unisphere for unified array management, the vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI) as detailed in a recent Enterprise Storage Forum article, and a briefing on vBlock, the first tangible product from the EMC, Cisco and VMware partnership.
"The new vSphere APIs provide the best virtual server integration," said Pat Gelsinger, the company's president and COO.
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During the EMC World event in May, Gelsinger seemed like a square peg in a round hole. Clearly not a storage networking guy, his presentation appeared to be a little offbeat. At EMC Forum, however, he was the main event and his mission came more sharply into focus.
While continuing the private cloud theme, he went into the specifics of where EMC is heading, such as streamlining the product portfolio from end-to-end.
"EMC had a very complex product line when I showed up," said Gelsinger. "We are in the midst of simplifying it."
He cited several examples. One goal is to bring block, file and object-based storage together in the long term. He also mentioned that instead of 16 ways to accomplish replication, EMC would boil it down to one or two. Rumors of the unification of EMC arrays, then, could prove well founded.
Probably the most tangible sign of EMC's intentions is the release of the Unisphere unified management console. It works across CLARiiON and Celerra systems and will be part of new arrays and systems going forward. What this does is provide one pane of glass to manage storage - no more jumping from console to console depending on the product line.
Interestingly, the dovetailing with VMware is so tight that users can use either Unisphere or vSphere for management purposes (i.e. virtualization and server guys can stay within vSphere and yet find out anything they need to know about storage). Similarly, storage administrators can use Unisphere as a window into the wider world of servers and virtual machines (VM).
Gelsinger was bullish about the acquisition of Greenplum, which he described as a provider of disruptive data warehousing tech and as the best-in-class large scale environment for large amounts of data. EMC has big plans for Greenplum's massively parallel architecture, which takes advantage of scale-out virtual x86 servers.
It is easy to see how this complements the vision of the private cloud. The plan is to base a new data computing product division around Greenplum within EMC's Information Infrastructure business.
"Greenplum is available currently as software, but appliance versions will be coming out," said Gelsinger.
There are many pieces involved in the EMC cloud jigsaw. Without giving much away, Gelsinger hinted that EMC Atmos would be the product line to deliver object-based storage for the cloud as part of an ongoing IT-as-a-Service vision incorporating SLA-driven management.
"New products dealing with IT-as-a-service are scheduled for the second part of this year," said Gelsinger. "We are also revitalizing our relationship with Dell."
That last tidbit no doubt is a partnership to provide cheap server building blocks for the cloud.
The extent of integration between EMC and VMware became crystal clear during the first technical session of the day - delivered by Frank Divona, business manager for EMCs Unified Storage, Cloud Computing and Archive platforms. He discussed VAAI and what it means for Unisphere: it opens the door to a common suite of data services for deduplication, compression, virtual provisioning, compliance, tiering and replication regardless of the drive type or type of storage (file, block or object).
"You can compress specific VMs, or shift around your storage environment from within vSphere," said Divona. "You can create a data store and provision it in a couple of clicks. Everything else is done automatically."
He added that VAAI produces 10x less IO for common tasks like creating VMs, makes it possible to house10x more VMs per data store and enables 10x faster VM deployment.
"As you create more VMs, you experience problems via locking which limits the number of VMs you can create," said Divona. "VAAI handles this."
The way EMC has designed it, however, you can manage all of this via vSphere or Unisphere. Divona said the latter would be available by the end of the month, which would give a common experience of SAN and NAS for the mid-tier space.
"There are a lot more Unisphere features coming in the third quarter for even more integrated management," he said. "The overall direction is to make it so you are managing apps and have the storage automatically provisioned as opposed to having to build the storage and then trying to cobble it to the applications manually."
Head in the Clouds
Far from merely talking the talk, EMC has put its head firmly into the cloud in the form of its own data centers. Senior director of EMC IT, Michael Montoya, is the point man on EMC's very own personal journey to the private cloud. This initiative encompasses close to 50,000 internal users as well as 400,000 customers and partners, five physical data centers, 7PB of storage, and more than 400 applications and tools.
Currently, the company is about 55 percent virtualized. As it has done so, it has engaged in massive amounts of server consolidation; one project squeezed 1670 servers down to 310; a second brought another 1600 servers down to 40.
"We are experiencing 60 percent more storage growth but not getting 60 percent more funding," said Montoya. "Driving efficiencies via virtualization and the cloud is a vital action."
Tangible gains to date include maintaining a flat storage headcount despite the data explosion, as well as cutting down on the amount of storage required. Montoya estimates having avoided the acquisition of 1PB of storage over the last five years or so. Cash savings are estimated at around $105 million.
The goal is to be 100 percent virtualized on vSphere while delivering cloud-based services like self-service provisioning to users. In the meantime, the company has moved from two data storage tiers to five with Flash making up the first tier for highest performance.
500 users have been migrated to virtual desktops using VMware View 4.0, RSA Security and vBlock. By 2012, the whole company will be operating on virtual desktops. Clearly, this is a big step on the road towards the cloud, as is the recent deployment of Salesforce.com for CRM.
Such large scale overhauls, though, do not happen in isolation. Far from being the secret scheming of the few in IT, Montoya acknowledges the vital role of business-IT alignment. As part of that, IT has to have top-level support to be able to pull off such changes.
"We are in the board room more than ever," he said. "We have become involved in more strategic discussions as we have complete executive buy in."
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).
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