EMC announces VPLEX private-cloud appliance

EMC's World Conference is all about the 'private cloud'

BOSTON -- At its annual user conference here, EMC Corp. today announced a private-cloud appliance that allows synchronous replication between storage arrays -- and the applications and virtual machines associated with them -- that are up to 100 kilometers apart.

The EMC VPLEX appliance currently supports remote replication of block-level data only, but the company said its goal is to eventually support replication of file and object-based storage. The device is designed to provide data migration for automated storage provisioning, disaster recovery and business continuity systems through its ability to create active remote data centers, which allows users to automatically fail over from one data center to another.

"This is a fundamentally game-changing technology on how storage can be federated," EMC CEO Joe Tucci said during a keynote speech. "Obviously, this is far more green than the old way of running a data center."

Tucci said the company's vision is all about the private and public cloud, where -- as with virtualization in data centers and in storage arrays -- a layer of abstraction will be created so that the physical location where data resides will not be visible to the applications using that data.

Tucci described EMC's vision as a "federation of resources," where storage capacity and application workloads can dynamically move between data centers.

The VPLEX comes in two versions: the VPLEX Local, a single appliance for replication within a single data center between EMC arrays, and the VPLEX Metro, which enables synchronous replication between two boxes at distances of up to 100km. The 100km cutoff is due primarily to application limitations, not to the arrays' physical ability to replicate data, said Brian Gallagher, president of EMC's Symmetrix and Virtualization Product Group, noting that it takes only about 5 milliseconds for data to travel between two data centers that are 100km apart and connected by fiber optic cables.

"Our vision is really to go away from having discrete data centers," Gallagher said "This has never been done in the past. It allows for access over distance. [Administrators] can move data and access it across data centers."

Gallagher said the VPLEX Metro allows administrators to balance workloads over 100km distances and to automatically fail over between data centers to avoid disasters.

"If there's a hurricane in one part of the world, you can teleport applications and data to another part of the world," Gallagher said.

According to Gallagher, a storage administrator who has excess storage capacity at one data center with a VPLEX appliance can link into another data center and utilize that capacity. For example, an EMC Clariion array with additional capacity in one data center can be accessed by another Clariion array in another data center up to 100km away as primary storage for an application server.

Gallagher said VPLEX appliances can also leverage management applications on EMC storage arrays. For example, an appliance could use EMC's fully automated storage tiering (FAST) technology, which identifies data sets at the volume level to be automatically moved between storage tiers.

The VPLEX Metro has been qualified for use with VMware Vmotion for migration of virtual machines between VMware vSphere clusters for Microsoft, SAP and Oracle applications. The appliance also supports Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V and Live Migration, so it can migrate those virtual machines, as well.

Eventually, Tucci said, EMC's cloud technology will allow administrators to manage all of their storage, regardless of the data center in which it resides, with the same management software and provision capacity to business groups, offering them whatever level of storage performance they need for a given application.

Each VPLEX appliance comes with one to four controller boards with two quadcore processors. Each VPLEX appliance has 64GB of cache and 32 8Gbit/sec. Fibre Channel ports. Each "engine" as EMC called it, or appliance, is a standard 2U (3.5-in) in height.

Two VPLEX Metro appliances can be clustered to support up to 16,000 virtual data volumes, the company said. The appliance also supports Oracle VM 2.2, Oracle Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Linux and Windows, as well as EMC's PowerPath, which allows automatic load-balancing and network path fail-over.

Gallagher said EMC is in talks with other storage companies to allow their equipment to replicate data between data centers through shared APIs. "We've tested hundreds of SAN-server combinations," he said. But EMC's strategy also includes trying to establish standardized specifications, much like the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), which allows storage management applications to communicate and manage multiple vendors' storage devices.

While EMC's VPLEX comes as an appliance, the company said it will eventually embed the application's asynchronous data replication capabilities in all of its storage product lines.

EMC plans to introduce two more versions of VPLEX next year: VPLEX Geo, which would support synchronous data replication between data centers anywhere in the world, and VPLEX Global, which would allow multiple data centers within a broader region to be seen by applications as a single, virtual data center.

"You can envision many smaller data centers linking together to form one large data center," Gallagher said. "Now you can envision doing things like moving thousands of virtual machines across thousands of miles."

Pricing for the VPLEX Local starts at $77,000. EMC is also offering a SaaS model, which starts at $26,000.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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