Next to hypervisors, storage is the most important building block for an agile virtual environment. Inefficient storage is a bottleneck in any virtualized data center. To avoid such bottlenecks, EMC has announced a number of enhancements to its Celerra and Clariion NAS product lines that increase performance and capacity, and simplify management. The enhancements bring more robust storage to companies with mid-range storage requirements.
Performance enhancements include automatic storage tiering that strikes a balance between high-performance storage and cost. Storage tiering uses high-performance storage arrays, such as SAS or SSD, for the most frequently used data and slower, lower cost, storage arrays for less frequently used data. EMC's Fully Automatic Storage Tiering (FAST) Suite rebalances data distribution across storage tiers. The company has also just released FAST Cache, an SSD-based storage array which is designed to quickly handle bursts of storage traffic.
The new version of FAST is more granular, allowing blocks to be moved among storage tiers. It proactively examines IO patterns since the last rebalancing in order to determine where to place data. EMC recommends using FAST rebalancing once a day during off hours to reduce impact on active users. To encourage customers to use FAST and the new FAST Cache, EMC is offering both for a savings of 60 percent vs. buying each feature individually.
"EMC's been promising FAST version two for a long time and we're finally seeing it now," says Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at DeepStorage.net and a Network Computing contributor. "Since they decided to use STEC's fast and expensive flash drives, Clariion customers needed an automated way to use it for just their hot data. I'm excited by FAST Cache, which promises to deliver a significant speed boost for many applications with a relatively small amount of flash."
EMC also announced two new Celerra appliances, the VG2 and VG8, sporting up to 64 64-bit Intel Xeon 5600 cores and 192 GB of RAM. EMC claims the new horsepower doubles the performance of the file devices. Most interesting is that EMC says it will support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) on the Celerra and Clariion appliances by the fourth quarter of 2010. FCoE leverages the speed advantage of 10Gb Ethernet vs. Fibre Channel's 4Gb and 8Gb networking, and will work with new data center networking equipment. FCoE support will be available as a hot-swappable module in the appliances. EMC has tested its FCoE NICs with Cisco's Nexus and Brocade 8000 switches.
EMC is also easing storage management with Unisphere, a redesigned GUI for storage management of Celerra and Clariion appliances. EMC touts streamlined management with as much as 90 percent fewer clicks overall. While that seems like an odd metric, anyone who has used a poorly designed management UI can attest that fewer clicks equals more efficient management. Unisphere goes beyond mere mouse optimization, however. It also includes automation, which the company says streamlines performance tuning.
In addition, Celerra, Clariion, and Unisphere integrate with VMware's vCenter, allowing administrators to provision and manage storage within vCenter. The storage arrays integrate with VMware's hypervisor using VStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI), which offloads storage tasks from the hypervisor, such as snapshots and cloning. The company says its storage arrays will be more efficient at performing these IO-intensive tasks, thus freeing up ESX server resources.
All of these feature are available now, except for FCoE support, which will be available later this year. Pricing information was not available.