EMC on Virtualization: Wait for Us

Claims rivals took the easy path to push storage virtualization out the door fast

September 11, 2004

3 Min Read
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EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) hopes to convince enterprise users that patience is a virtue when it comes to virtualization.

This week's announcement by Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) of enhanced virtualization features in its new Universal Storage Platform apparently struck a sore spot for EMC (see Hitachi Struts Mr. Universal). Hitachi's virtualization offering, which it plans to expand by the end of this year, emphasizes that EMC won't offer storage virtualization until next year -- months behind Hitachi and another high-end SAN rival, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM).

Despite the "Johnny come lately" implications, EMC's executive VP of Software, Mark Lewis, says hed rather be right than be first.

“Timing or no, I’m comfortable that every customer we talk to will want to wait to at least evaluate the different approaches,” Lewis said today in a call with analysts and media.

Lewis says EMC’s biggest problem isn’t being late to the dance. It’s clearing up confusion caused by different approaches to storage virtualization (see Where Does the Intelligence Go? and Report: Switch Is Best for Virtualization). Although it’s been available for a while, virtualization has yet to gain widespread adoption, he insists.“Customers still need to be convinced about storage virtualization in general. When you talk about storage virtualization, a lot of people don’t understand the nuances between the technologies. They get a preconceived idea that, ‘Yeah, we looked at it and don’t like it.' "

Lewis has a point, in that approaches differ widely. Storage virtualization refers to pooling physical storage across several networked devices so any server can access data in the pool and it can be centrally managed. IBM, Hitachi, and EMC all take a different tack to accomplish this.

IBM uses an appliance running its SAN Volume Controller software as its virtualization engine (see IBM Revs Virtualization Engine and IBM Upgrades Virtualization ). Hitachi performs virtualization inside the controller by mapping LUNs into cache and accessing it from there.

EMC will use intelligent switches for virtualization, in partnership with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA). (See EMC & McData Get Smart, EMC OEMs Brocade's Rhapsody Switch, and EMC, Cisco Do the Deed.) Indeed, EMC's delay is because it is still developing the software that routes data through the switches.

Lewis says the IBM and Hitachi approaches add layers of complexity and cost to storage networks. [Ed. note: Funny, Hitachi says the same thing about its competitors’ virtualization strategies.] Lewis also says data could be lost if it is in cache while a system fails.EMC’s approach will replace current Fibre Channel switches with models that support its virtualization software. Lewis admits the intelligent switches will cost more that those they will replace, but only core switches need be updated for virtualization.

What’s the timeline for intelligent switches? EMC’s plan is to have them available for beta customers by the end of the year with general availability by mid-2005.

EMC rivals hope their virtualization products are already entrenched by the time EMC gets in the game. Lewis said EMC is a virtualization laggard because it put the most effort into developing the technology. “We’ve had a sizeable team of software developers on this for years rather than months. The deployments coming out today [from competitors] are the easiest to design and build. They simply put a box between the front end and back end.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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