EMC Clusters New Storage Systems for Virtual Data Centers

Symmetrix V-Max raises the high-end with new architecture designed to support hundreds of petabytes, thousands of virtual servers, and millions of IOPS, EMC says

April 30, 2009

7 Min Read
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By Paul Travis

EMC is taking on the challenge of the virtual data center with a new storage system and architecture that's designed to support the booming trend to virtualize servers, storage, and networking resources in order to use them in a more flexible manner to accommodate the real-time demands of business processes and applications. The Symmetrix V-Max introduced on Tuesday raises the bar for high-end storage and offers three times the usable capacity, twice the connectivity, and three times the performance of the company's current top-of-the-line Symmetric, the DMX-4, which will continue to be offered, the company says.

The V-Max was purpose-built for virtual data centers and can provide the performance and efficiency of scale-up architectures and the lower cost of scale-out architectures with a new approach to high-end storage using industry-standard components, according to EMC. A large cluster can scale to hundreds of petabytes of storage, and handle thousands of virtual servers and process millions of I/Os per second. It uses multi-core processors and enterprise flash, Fibre Channel, and SATA drives to provide tiered storage, and later this year EMC plans to release FAST, or Fully Automated Storage Tiering, to automate the movement of data between tiers.

EMC chairman and CEO Joe Tucci said in a Webcast for reporters, analysts, and IT managers that the system "is the most significant Symmetrix innovation since we first introduced the product 18 years ago." He said IT managers can use the V-Max and VMware's Virtual Data Center Operating System to build internal cloud-based virtual systems that are more dynamic and efficient than current systems. "This is the most advanced storage system in the IT industry," he said. EMC promoted the announcement in advance with the theme "Overtake the Future" and said that more than 10,000 people registered to hear Tucci's presentation.

EMC's announcement came a month after networking leader Cisco announced its plans for virtualized data centers and its entry into the blade server market. EMC is a partner with Cisco and together with virtualization leader VMware, partially owned by EMC, the three vendors are pushing a new vision and technology architecture for virtual data centers for large enterprises. "EMC, Cisco and VMware are on record that we share a common vision and our roadmaps are interlocked. VMware is making the server layer fluid so you can quickly and easily add and move resources around. Cisco is doing the same thing at the network layer. EMC is doing it for the storage layer," said Barb Robidoux, vice president for storage product marketing at EMC.The basic building block for the system is the V-Max Engine, and enterprises can link together hundreds in a virtual matrix, the company says. Each one includes multiple redundant Intel Xeon quad-core processors with up to 128 GB of memory and up to 16 host and 16 drive channel connections. The first product is a V-Max SE with 48 to 360 disks, a single V-Max engine with two director-pairs and support for Ficon, Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and Gigabit Ethernet. Prices start at $250,000 and can run into the millions of dollars for larger systems. The company said prices are up to 10 percent less than the DMX-4. With eight V-Max Engines it can host up to 2,400 disks for 2 PB of storage, 1 TB of global memory, 128 host ports, and 128 backend connections to storage and uses 2.32 GHz multi-core processors with up to 128 processor cores.

New software will let IT managers provision groups -- automatically, reducing the need for manual configuration -- and boost data mobility by migrating thousands of volumes concurrently. It can cut amount of time spent on provisioning by up to 95 percent. It also integrates with VMware features to make server and storage resources available on demand using centralized management. The software also speeds up local and distance replication, the company said.

The system is available now, and EMC says around 30 customers have been testing the system. Claudio Baffigi, head of technological infrastructures at UniCredit Group, a European bank, said in a statement that the bank has been looking for a storage infrastructure to improve database performance and maintain high performance during peak workloads. "The Symmetrix V-Max system can significantly improve response times on our production database, which translates to improved productivity for our 10,200 branches," Baffigi said. "The Symmetrix V-Max system also fits in well with our green initiative to reduce energy consumption and eliminate unnecessary hardware." EMC said the V-Max system uses 20 percent less power per TB and can reduce the need for power and cooling in data centers. Additional power savings can come from using lower powered solid-state or SATA drives.

Another customer is Microsoft adCenter, a part of Microsoft Advertising that helps companies manage search ad campaigns on Microsoft Live Search. "The new Symmetrix V-Max systems have the ability to easily move data from the highest-performing media to lower-performing drives based on how the information is being used. The ability to scale performance along with capacity is a key capability as our business continues to grow," Bong Kang, SAN engineering lead at Microsoft adCenter, said in a statement.

Analysts generally had good things to say about EMC's approach, although at least one said it should make IT managers question the way they design their data center infrastructures.Charles King, the president and principal analyst for Pund-IT and a Byte and Switch blogger, said EMC faced a challenge in adapting its legacy Symmetric storage systems to the data center trends and evolving business processes. He said in an email that EMC seems to have shown with the V-Max that it can support the new trend toward virtualization with the necessary performance and flexibility. "The new Symmetrix V-Max solutions qualify as the latest in a long series of high-end storage success stories from EMC," he said.

Benjamin Woo, vice president for enterprise storage systems research at IDC called EMC's approach "a good one." He said in an email that EMC is providing the kind of features and capabilities needed for highly virtualized data centers, such as simplified management and provisioning. "The ability to manage volumes and VMs in groups can increase the productivity of administrators," he said. Upgrades to EMC's Enguinity software are crucial, he said, because in today's data centers "the underlying hardware platform has taken a backseat to the performance of the software."

The new Symmetrix V-Max will appeal to IT departments with an investment in EMC systems and have a need for high-end storage, said David Vellante, principle contributor to Wikibon, a community of IT professionals and research analysts. But it may not have broad appeal as more IT departments try to reduce their reliance on expensive Tier 1 storage, he said in an email. In interviews with storage managers in the past year or so, "pushing most storage to Tier 2 was the strategy to do this," he said.

Storage buyers need to figure out the cost premium of high-end systems like the Symmetrix and calculate their need for continuous availability, scale, and automation, he said. The key is whether EMC can deliver on its promise to provide an automated way to move data among tiers. "If EMC can give them a way to do that all within a single architecture from Tier 0 down to Tier 3 with high-capacity SATA, that gets interesting. But the software to do this is not here today. The architecture being announced is the first step."

Vellante called EMC's approach "visionary, ambitious, and bold" and said it will require three things to be successful -- the ability to manage physically distributed resources as a single logical image, a system that never goes down and high degrees of automation. "The bottom line -- what Cisco and VMware are doing is building the world's next big giant computers. EMC is proposing building the big giant storage to support those next-gen computers. If anyone can do it, EMC can," he said.InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the challenges around enterprise storage. Download the report here (registration required).

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