EMC Says Private Clouds Are the Future of Storage, Data Centers

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BOSTON — EMC (NYSE: EMC) sees virtualization and private clouds as the future of storage networking and data centers, and the data storage giant says it plans to be at the forefront of companies building that next-generation infrastructure.

“EMC is going all out on the private cloud,” EMC CEO Joe Tucci told attendees at EMC World today. “It is a journey well worth taking.”

Tucci began with a history lesson, sketching through the various waves of IT: mainframe, mini-computers, distributed computing, and on up to the present. The next wave, he said, is the cloud. He backed this up with a familiar argument: the IT infrastructure is getting too complex, inefficient and costly. In support of this, he quoted IDC figures that 72 percent of IT budgets are spent just to maintain existing applications.

He then took a potshot at a couple of his rivals — Amazon and Google. Many forecast a future where a handful of firms like Amazon and Google will hold all of the planet’s data. Tucci argued that those platforms are really designed for latest-generation apps. That leaves the bulk of the IT world out of the equation, with billions of lines of code and trillions of dollars investment residing inside companies.

EMC, then, has a very different vision: Internal data centers will morph into private clouds, and external providers will offer public clouds. They will be able to work together to serve both existing business logic and future applications. Of course, EMC claims to have the infrastructure for this brave new world of massive global storage networks, starting with the new EMC VPLEX unveiled today.

“Eventually, there will be tens of thousands of private clouds and hundreds of public clouds in existence,” said Tucci.

What tends to scare people away from putting their data in the cloud is worries about reliability, control and security. EMC believes that setting up private clouds within a corporation is the best way to address these concerns. Control continues to reside within the company. At the same time, a cloud provides far more dynamic storage and IT resources, available on demand, but also as reliable and secure as in a traditional data center.

This all very much fits in with ongoing trends. Tucci quoted another survey of CIOs, which revealed that their biggest areas of interest were server virtualization, security, the cloud and storage virtualization. From EMC’s perspective, the cloud brings all this together. With VMware (NYSE: VMW) offering the virtualization elements, RSA Security aiming squarely cloud security (more news of where that is heading is scheduled for tomorrow), and EMC supplying the infrastructure and information management, it’s no wonder the company is characterizing cloud computing as perhaps the biggest opportunity it has ever had.

As such, it continues to partner heavily with Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) to forward this concept. EMC doesn’t want to get into the business of designing and manufacturing server and networking hardware, so Cisco is a natural fit.

“Rather than one company that delivers everything, we have lots of partners to help us build a private cloud,” said Tucci. “We want to give people the opportunity to build the cloud using whatever hardware they want. Choice is very important in our approach.”

That choice goes as far as allowing non-EMC hardware into the mix. Tucci said that if people want to use storage hardware from other vendors, the EMC cloud would facilitate that.

Intel Inside EMC Storage

Where choice doesn’t come into the picture, however, is with regard to processors. EMC has firmly thrown its hat into the x86 ring. The latest generation of EMC products is based on Intel Xeon processors. The Symmetrix V-Max, for instance, is now Intel Xeon, whereas the previous generation used RISC-based processors. Tucci is betting that architectures like the Nehalem EX will win out in the long run.

“The building blocks of the cloud will be x86-based,” said Tucci. “We are getting phenomenal performance out of x86. The V-Max is by far the fastest Symmetrix platform we have ever made.”

EMC isn’t only talking the talk. It is walking that walk internally. A three-year program is ongoing to move all EMC’s own internal IT infrastructure off UNIX and wholly onto x86, with VMware at the heart of it all.

EMC VPLEX and Data Mobility

Federation also comes into play. Tucci explained that private and public clouds have to coexist. Different functions will reside in the public domain, while others are held within a private cloud. What has to happen to make this work, though, is to be able to move workloads between the two in order to minimize costs and maximize efficiency. He gave an example of how this will impact personal computing. Mobility is now king and so data will reside in the cloud and be accessed by whatever device the user prefers.

“Your information will be stored centrally and you will use different devices to access it,” said Tucci. “It will take both a private and public cloud to provide that level of flexibility.”

EMC’s VPLEX announcement is an integral part of its private cloud vision. By enabling organizations to move thousands of virtual machines (VMs) and associated storage over large distances, it facilitates the real-time adjustment of IT workloads as well as providing the ability to move operations away from potential disaster areas temporarily.

“This distributed storage federation solution eliminates the boundaries of physical storage and allows information resources to be transparently pooled and shared over distance for new levels of efficiency, control and choice,” said Brian Gallagher, president of EMC’s Symmetrix and Virtualization product group.

The protocols built into VPLEX minimize latency. But it still hits a roadblock for synchronous systems at around 100 km, where it reaches four or five milliseconds. Accordingly, the two future releases of VPLEX (Geo and Global) will harness an asynchronous approach.

Gallagher emphasized that these VPLEX appliances are array aware — they leverage the capabilities of EMC storage arrays for functionality such as replication, complimentary caching, automation, working in conjunction with EMC’s fully automated storage tiering (FAST) technology.

For now, though, VPLEX will only support block-level devices. Gallagher said that file storage may be supported in the future. In addition to a starting price for a VPLEX appliance of $77,000, he noted a subscription service for the software starting at $26,000. EMC doesn’t expect VPLEX to significantly benefit 2010 sales. However, it anticipates a major ramp up in its revenues next year.

Solid State Drives Remain Pricey

One notable absentee in the EMC press announcement arsenal was flash-based solid state drives (SSDs). At the last two shows, the company has trumpeted its SSD technologies heavily. This year, SSD fell off the radar. Tucci mentioned it as an element in green IT and admitted that its big disadvantage remains cost.

“Flash is very energy efficient but it is expensive,” he said.

Otherwise, EMC made a couple of announcements about converged networking and partnerships, both falling within its private cloud message. The basic convergence message is that the cloud requires networking flexibility. That has to encompass Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), iSCSI and network attached storage (NAS). As well as its partnership with Cisco, EMC is planning to release more Ethernet products in the near future while also partnering with Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD) to resell its various storage switches.

Reading between the lines here, it could be that EMC sees the writing on the wall for Fibre Channel in the long term. It seems like it is buying into Cisco’s vision of a storage world running on Ethernet. In fact, EMC global marketing CTO Chuck Hollis admitted as much in a recent interview.

“The advent of converged networks will simplify network challenges and create the data center infrastructure required to realize the full potential of private clouds,” said Howard Elias, president of EMC’s Cloud unit.

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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