EMC combines Clariion, Celerra line in VNX, revamps entire storage line

Data storage company also announces its first rebranded products from its Isilon Systems acquisition

EMC on Tuesday announced a slew of products, including upgrades to its high-end VMAX Symmetrix array, the introduction of clustered NAS from its recent acquisition of Isilon Systems , and a product line that combines its midrange Clariion SAN and Celerra NAS systems.

In a media event punctuated with stunts staged in New York and Miami, EMC rolled out its new line of VNX SAN/NAS arrays. The line includes three models: the new entry-level VNXe with a price tag of under $10,000 and the VNX5000 and VNX7500, the prices for which EMC did not disclose.

Alongside a circus-like atmosphere that included a performance group that crammed 26 people into a Mini Cooper in a bid for a new Guinness Book world record, one of the more eye-catching product demonstrations occurred when EMC brought a fourth-grader on to the stage to show how easy a VNXe could be configured. The boy, named Edward, used an AppleiPad to configure storage capacity on a VNXe in a matter of a few mouse clicks. He then proceeded to pull and replace a failed hard drive in the array in under a minute.

There are two versions of the VNXe line: The 2U (3.5-in. high) VNXe3100, which supports Network File System (NFS), Common Internet File System (CIFS) and the parallel network file system or pNFS, and holds up to 96 drives, and the 3U (5.25-in. high) VNXe3300, which uses the iSCSI protocol and can hold up to 120 drives.

The advantage of the pNFS protocol is that it's basically a standard client for high-performance file systems, which would bring high-performance computing to commercial NAS systems. EMC's other complementary acquisition, Greenplum, sells a data warehouse platform based on a massively parallel processing (MPP) architecture that can scale out to hundreds of servers running a single database instance. Combined, the two systems offer the hardware and software for a high-performance computing architecture.

EMC CEO Joe Tucci said storage today is all about "the cloud ," whether in the form of a data center -based private infrastructure or in a SaaS-model. EMC's new product line is aimed at supporting SaaS-like capabilities, such as thin provisioning and automated storage tiering, he said.

"IT has become too complex, too inefficient, too inflexible and too costly. [IT managers] feel they have too many diverse environments. Too many operating systems. Those operating systems run on too many distinct platforms and underlying architectures. Large customers feel they have too many data centers and too many vendors," Tucci said. "There's too much money spent with service companies to customize applications ... and users feel they have a lack of control."

EMC is targeting its new VNX line to compete with NetApp's Fabric-Attached Storage (FAS) line of products, which have been offering block- or file-level storage since they were released in 2008. NetApp has three FAS products, the entry-level FAS2000, the midrange FAS3000 and the high-end FAS6000 array.

"Today's EMC news is another example of the storage industry playing catch up to NetApp. While other companies are trying to plug holes in their existing portfolios to keep pace, NetApp continues to gain market share by innovating and delivering solutions built on a single, unified architecture that are optimized for shared infrastructures," Manish Goel, NetApp's executive vice president of products, said in a statement.

NetApp's line of FAS storage arrays all use the same Data ONTAP 8 operating system. Last year, the company also added what it called Unified Connect to its Data ONTAP 8, which offers administrators the ability to concurrently run a variety of Ethernet-based connections to its storage arrays, including Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), iSCSI, NFS or CIFS.

EMC also added the latter capability to its new VNX line of SAN/NAS arrays .

The entry-level VNXe is built on Intel's Westmere processor and is designed to have no single point of failure with dual power sources and support for dual-ported 6Gbit/sec. SAS drives. The array, which comes in 2U (3.5-in high) and 3U models, can hold up to 120 disk drives for a total capacity of 240TB. The VNXe takes the place of the Clariion AX4 iSCSI and NX4 Unified Storage System.

The VNXe comes with advanced features such as thin provisioning and file deduplication and decompression. It also has an integrated self-help tool that notifies users to failures within the system.

Pat Gelsinger, president and chief operating officer of EMC's information infrastructure products, said the new VNXe has the lowest cost entry point of any SAN/NAS array in the market. He compared prices to multi-protocol systems from NetApp, IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, claiming they all sold for more than $10,000. However, a NetApp spokewoman discounted EMC's pricing, stating its entry-level FAS2000 system has a starting price of $7,920 , for a single controller and 3TB of capacity.

EMC said it was releasing seven VNX products in all, ranging from two versions of the VNXe to the midrange VNX 5000 and 7000 series, which includes the VNX5100, VNX5300, VNX5500, VNX5700 and VNX7500.

The VNX7500 takes the place of the Clariion CX4-960 and Celerra NS-960 at the high end of EMC's midrange offerings. The VNX5000 systems takes the place of the CX4-480, CX4-240, CX4-120 and Clariion AX4 Fibre Channel array and NS-480, NS-120 Celerra arrays.

EMC's VNX7500 comes in at the upper end of EMC's midrange storage offerings. The VNX7500 scales to 1,000 drives or 2 petabytes of capacity, using a variety of storage, from solid state drives (SSD), serial SCSI (SAS) and serial ATA (SATA). EMC claims the array has three times the performance of previous generations of Clariion or Celerra arrays.

The VNX5000 and 7000 series, which is based on Intel's Xeon 5600 multicore processor, comes with EMC's Fully Automated Storage Tiering Virtual Provisioning (FAST-VP) software. In 2009, EMC began offering its FAST technology, which automates the movement of data onto either SSDs, SAS or SATA drives depending on the type of data and frequency of use, across its Symmetrix, Clariion and Celerra line of storage arrays.

The VNX5000 systems takes the place of the Clariion CX4-480, CX4-240, CX4-120 and Clariion AX4 and Celerra NS-480 and NS-120 storage systems. It holds from 75 to 500 drives and up to 1 petabyte of capacity.

EMC claimed its new VNX line is the only storage system in the market that offers automated file and block sub-LUN tiering using its FAST technology. NetApp claimed EMC has simply wrapped "sheet metal" around the Clariion and Celerra hardware and that the underlying operating systems are still disparate.

"If this is a dark controller in a box and you can migrate data between the data stores, it's not that interesting. Customers are looking for a single, homogeneous storage pool that they can carve up via block and NAS protocols," said Patrick Rogers, NetApp's vice president of product marketing.

VNX includes both Clariion's Flare and Celerra's Dart operating systems, but EMC was not forthcoming with whether those systems have been integrated or required some form of translation engine. According to Mark Peters, an analyst with market research firm ESG, EMC's OSes remain separate and disparate.

"I think the bigger story is the fact that, irrespective of how they're doing it, the whole marketplace will do a unified discussion," Peters said, referring to the unification of SAN and NAS protocols on a single array.

ESG analyst Brian Babineau said EMC must prove its unified storage claims.

"EMC has some checked some boxes and NetApp has checked some boxes [on an IT manager's needs list], but at the end of the day, having the ability to connect all workloads, maintain performance and not worry about which disk drives your data is on is what matters," he said. "Are we going to get into battles as to what makes a system truly unified? Yes."

Peters added that a more significant change for EMC is that it's targeting low-end channel resellers through its Velocity partner program , which it has not done previously to this extent. EMC's Gelsinger said the company plans on bringing "thousands" of new reseller partners into the program and accelerating the training cycle for salespeople from weeks or months to days.

"Think about EMC. You'd never think of them as being in low-end cost leadership," he said. "The extent into which they're going into that area of the channel will have a significant impact on the industry."

EMC VMAX revamp

In another part of the presentation punctuated with showmanship, EMC announced it was updating its highest end array, the VMAX Symmetrix array. The announcement included a live video stream of motorcycle stuntman Bubba Blackwell jumping a Harley Davidson over 40 EMC VMAX arrays in the parking lot of a dealership in Miami.

Geslinger said EMC has added 55 new features to the VMAX array and doubled its performance. The VMAX can scale from 48 to 2,400 drives and 2 petabytes of capacity. The VMAX now has the ability to encrypt data natively on its drives and perform key management down to a single disk via EMC's RSA software.

The array also now offers live migration of data between arrays, allowing seamless hardware upgrades. For example, an IT shop could install a new VMAX array, configure it and then allow its existing VMAX array to migrate current data onto the new array without disrupting service.

Like the VNX arrays, the VMAX now has the updated FAST VP software, which allows it to allocate storage on the fly from virtual storage pools. EMC, however, was short on details about other new features on the box, and spokespersons were unavailable to comment at deadline.

EMC also announced the first rebranded, clustered NAS products from its purchase of Isilon Systems last month. EMC announced S, X and NL series of Isilon arrays, or nodes, as the company calls them.

Isilon's product, which it calls IQ nodes, are a modular NAS array that use the company's proprietary OneFS operating software to store and serve up large digital files that include audio, photos and video content. Nearly one-third of Isilon's customers are in the media business.

Along with Isilon, other clustered NAS vendors include Panasas, NetApp and BluArc. Clustered NAS systems offer a more economical way to build large-scale storage infrastructures without having to invest in proprietary, monolithic arrays. Using the pNFS protocol, a clusters NAS system would be cheaper because it could use commodity servers like building blocks, adding them incrementally to clusters without disruption to the existing system.

EMC offered no details about its Isilon products.

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 .

Read more about storage in Computerworld's Storage Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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