EarthLink Exalts EMC

ISP buys a slew of EMC gear, including a DMX1000, claiming it beats HDS on price and performance

June 26, 2003

4 Min Read
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What does it take to displace an incumbent storage vendor from a large enterprise SAN? In landing the business of EarthLink Inc., EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) beat out its competition with a combination of leading price and performance -- and also by convincing the Internet service provider that its systems have greatly improved interoperability.

Ronald Williams, EarthLink's senior manager of infrastructure operations architecture, says EMC's ability to play nicely with its own systems, as well as those from other vendors, was an important factor in its decision earlier this year to migrate most of its corporate data to the company's storage arrays.

"I used to see [interoperability problems] with their SCSI-based arrays four to five years ago," Williams says. "We were a little nervous about that, and we were nervous about the cost, but I think EMC is a much different company than they were a few years ago. They seem very serious about the software issue."

In fact, Atlanta-based EarthLink was so impressed with EMC's about-face that it decided to shove aside its long-standing relationships with Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) to standardize on EMC gear for most of its corporate storage needs.

In February this year, the ISP purchased its first EMC Symmetrix DMX1000 to handle its most mission-critical data, as well as a Clariion CX600 midrange system and a Celerra NS600 NAS system to handle the rest of the data. What's more, Williams says, the service provider is already considering buying one more of each of the boxes, including another DMX."The installation went very fast," he says of EarthLink's DMX deployment. "It was up and running within three days, and we had all the data on it within a week."

With more than 5 million subscribers, EarthLink obviously has huge storage needs on the service side of its business. (The company wouldn't say which vendor or vendors provide the storage for that side of the house.) But its internal corporate storage needs are also exploding, Williams says. In 2001, he says, the ISP stored 9 Tbytes of corporate data, which includes the data needed for building the systems that support the call center, customer databases, human resources databases, and data warehousing.

Today, with more than 5,000 employees on its payroll and data centers in Georgia and California, the company has to manage 40 Tbytes of corporate storage, Williams says. The carrier currently runs about 300 Sun servers and 200 Windows servers to handle its corporate data flow. In addition, the company has several Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) file servers.

Before this year, EarthLink wasn't much of an EMC shop. At the time the ISP started shopping around for its first big storage array a few years ago, EMC's Symmetrix was no match for the Sun StorEdge 9960, a rebranded version of HDS's Lightning 9960, Williams says.

"We were facing very rapid storage growth," he says. "We quickly outgrew the 9960. So we bought another one. Then we started outgrowing it."EarthLink, on the lookout for a different solution that would afford it better performance, decided to take another look at EMC, as well as the latest high-end arrays from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and HDS through its partners Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun.

After an aggressive evaluation process, IBM dropped out of the bidding round on price, leaving only EMC and Hitachi standing, Williams says. In the end, he says, EMC offered more storage capacity and better performance for the money. While Williams won't reveal the dollar sum EarthLink paid for the EMC gear, he insists the company got a good deal.

"EMC, at least from our perspective, had lost the lead to Hitachi in 2000 to 2001, but they've clearly gotten the lead back," Williams says. "They simply have excellent performance." On certain applications, he says, the DMX1000 outperforms HDS Lightning 9960 by a factor of six to one. On big batch jobs, he adds, the DMX offers a 50 percent increase in performance over Hitachi.

In addition to increased performance, Williams says EarthLink liked that fact that EMC has many differently sized boxes to address its different types of data. The ISP also bought EMC ControlCenter (ECC) software to manage all of the gear. As for interoperability with non-EMC systems, he insists that that's not a problem.

"We try to make all of our storage vendors standardize on Brocade Communications Systems Inc., then Brocade deals with the heterogeneous issues," he says. "EMC does an enormous amount of testing with Brocade."Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Byte and Switch

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