EMC Ties Symmetrix to VMware

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EMC (NYSE: EMC) is overhauling its high-end data storage systems for a new era of Virtualizationand converged data center networks (see Is EMC Set to Unleash Tigon?).

The new Symmetrix V-Max, which EMC will unveil today at a series of Web events, includes a big boost in performance and scalability and tighter integration with EMC’s VMware (NYSE: VMW) subsidiary.

EMC senior product marketing director Bob Wambach disagreed with early reports characterizing the new Symmetrix as a DMX-5, a refresh of the DMX-4 platform.

“What we are introducing is a new product, a new Symmetrix architecture,” he said. “It is the most significant announcement we have ever made in storage.”

The new Virtual Matrix Architecture platform offers virtually unlimited flexibility and scalability, Wambach said, yet it remains “operationally simple” to manage even as it scales.

Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) and VMware are alliance partners in the new offering, building on the closer ties established in Cisco’s entry into the server market last month. Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD), Cisco’s competitor in the Ethernet and storage switch markets, is also a partner in the announcement.

In a blog posting today, EMC Global Marketing CTO Chuck Hollis said EMC is trying to do with storage what Cisco and VMware have done with servers: take massively scalable components “and make them look and behave as one.”

“EMC takes that same thinking and applies it to high-end storage arrays: multiple, independent storage controllers that behave and operate as a single, giant storage array,” Hollis wrote.

Intel Inside

The new system is built on Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Xeon quad-core processors for lower power costs and more IOPS per dollar. It mixes flash-based solid state drives (SSDs), Fibre Channel and SATAdrives and automates tiering and provisioning.

It offers three times the performance, twice the connectivity, and three times the capacity of the DMX-4, EMC says.

Pricing for a single V-Max controller starts at $250,000, supporting 48 to 360 disks and up to 128 GB of global memory and 16 host and 16 drive channel connections. It offers FICON, Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity and RapidIO interconnects, abandoning the backplane model to expand geographical limits and
share resources. EMC says it can also support FCoE.

For now, it’s limited to an eight-controller configuration, but the system can potentially scale to hundreds of controllers, “hundreds of thousands of virtual servers, hundreds of thousands of terabytes, tens of millions of IOPS,” all in a single virtual matrix, EMC says.

The new platform also includes four provisioning, mobility and management features designed to map directly onto VMware infrastructures and help relieve virtual I/O bottlenecks: Auto Provision and Virtual Provisioning for VMware Infrastructure and the upcoming vSphere; Virtual LUNs for DRS VMotion; PowerPath for HA vStructure; and ControlCenter and VC plug-in for vCenter.

EMC also announced Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) to automate the movement of data across multiple storage tiers based on business policies, predictive models and real-time access patterns. The feature will be available later this year. The company also announced zero data loss SRDF Extended Distance Protection (EDP) for Symmetrix V-Max systems, which it said can reduce the cost of multi-site replication by as much as half.

Clariion’s Future?

StorageIO analyst Greg Schulz said the V-Max’s “difference is the scale and flexibility of the solution being brought to the market. One of the common things I hear from IT pros is that advanced features often found in some startup or smaller systems would be nice to have, however, there is a concern on how well those solutions can scale with stability without adding cost, complexity or overhead. Let’s see with V-Max if EMC has cracked the code to enabling extreme scaling without compromise or complexity for enabling a flexible, agile, efficient IT environment.”

Asked if the new architecture could work its way down to EMC’s Clariion arrays, Wambach said he had “no comment on future platforms.”

But analyst Dave Vellante of Wikibon.org sees potential for EMC to move the platform down market.

“They should be able to execute on this new architecture using standard off-the-shelf technologies, with EMC software and services on top,” said Vellante. “EMC was first on the flash curve, and flash prices, as you know, are declining faster than spinning disk. If EMC could integrate Clariion into this story, that would be very appealing to customers.

“The big news here to me is that EMC is sending a clear message to customers that EMC is investing in this platform,” said Vellante. “Without that clear investment, one would have to wonder where the platform is headed. With that investment, Symmetrix becomes very interesting again.”

Vellante added that he’d like to see EMC “increase volumes of Symmetrix to get cost out and be more competitive with modular storage.”

Hu Yoshida, CTO of high-end competitor Hitachi Data Systems, criticized EMC for vendor lock-in in a blog posting, and said HDS already offers many of the same features.

Thirty of the systems have already shipped. Beta tester Claudio Baffigi of Europe’s UniCredit Group said in a statement that the Symmetrix V-Max “can significantly improve response times on our production database, which translates to improved productivity for our 10,200 branches. The scalability and provisioning capabilities of the Virtual Matrix architecture were easy to understand and use and will allow us to get the maximum performance and capacity for our storage investment.”

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for Time.com, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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