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EMC to put hardware in servers, VMs in storage

CEO Joe Tucci to step down in 2012, will become chairman

October 25, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - FOXBORO, Mass. -- EMC held its user forum last week at the home of the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, using the opportunity to expound on its vision for virtualization and the cloud.

EMC president and chief operating officer Pat Gelsinger
EMC president and chief operating officer Pat Gelsinger

One message that came through among several executive keynotes was that EMC will soon be selling hardware for servers while moving virtual servers onto its storage products.

One of the more interesting aspects of EMC's journey into supplying private cloud infrastructures and business intelligence capabilities is its stated objective to be able to run VMware-based virtual machines (VMs) on storage arrays.

The technology is enabled through EMC's pervasive use of multicore Intel x86 processors. EMC runs vSphere directly on the storage controllers and then uses vMotion to migrate VMs from application servers onto the storage array, said Pat Gelsinger, president and chief operating officer of EMC's Information Infrastructure Products, in a roundtable discussion with a group of journalists at the user forum.

Earlier this year, at its annual users conference, EMC demonstrated VMs running on its midrange VNX storage array and its Isilon clustered NAS array. Internally, EMC has also demonstrated VMs on its high-end Symmetrix VMAX array, Gelsinger said.

Because VM operations are shared with storage resources, use cases would be limited to those needing low compute power. One use case for VMs on storage arrays would be EMC's Greenplum data analytics platform, which customers use to comb through terabytes or petabytes of data and to try to filter out small amounts of information.

"That's a great example of lots of data and a little bit of compute. Now you don't have to drag those petabytes across the network," Gelsinger said.

He offered no timeline for when VMware-enabled storage arrays would be available, saying that EMC is involved in "some careful architectural work," in terms of how to expose the array APIs to VMware's interfaces.

"It's a whole lot of plumbing because none of these arrays were built to be general-purpose compute; these are specialized operating environments in them, so it's a lot of work to go do that," he said. "I will argue EMC is already pretty far along in that evolution from being a storage appliance to an appliance that has broader use cases in the infrastructure."

Project Lightning

Gelsinger also expanded on EMC's plan to sell NAND flash-based PCIe cards for application servers, known internally as "Project Lightning." The development effort was originally announced at EMC World in May.

Gelsinger described Project Lightning as an internal start-up company that would remain small and unhampered by higher corporate meddling.

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