EMC introduces x86-based Symmetrix array for cloud storage

Industry-standard processors and VMware's hypervisor enables the system to scale up to hundreds of thousands of terabytes

EMC Corp. Tuesday unveiled a high-end Symmetrix storage array that is based on Intel Corp.'s x86 quad-core processors and integrates VMware's APIs to automate the provisioning of storage for virtual machines across multiple tiers of disk drives, from solid-state to SATA.

The new V-Max array, with its Symmetrix Virtual Matrix Architecture, scales to 2 petabytes of usable capacity within a single chassis and offers three times the performance of the current Symmetrix DMX-4 array.

EMC said that its use of industry-standard processors and VMware's hypervisor enables the system to scale up to hundreds of thousands of terabytes of storage and tens of millions of I/O operations per second supporting hundreds of thousands of VMware and other virtual machines in a single, pooled storage infrastructure.

"This is the most significant change to the Symmetrix architecture since we introduced it 18 years ago," said Barb Robidoux, vice president of storage product marketing at EMC.

Not only can the Symmetrix V-Max virtualize disk storage within the array, but it can also cobble together multiple chassis and manage them as if from a single pool of storage. The array can automate the provisioning of data across solid-state disks, Fibre Channel and Serial ATA drives within a single frame.

Robidoux said the V-Max array is not an upgrade for the current Symmetrix DMX-4 array but an entirely new architecture created from the Symmetrix line to address virtualized data centers. "This is purpose-built for virtual data centers," she said. "You can think of this as the infrastructure for the private cloud. This is about your critical transactional business-critical applications."

Benjamin Woo, vice president of research firm IDC's enterprise storage systems research group, agreed the V-Max is nothing like past iterations of Symmetrix arrays because EMC is leaving its proprietary hardware behind and embracing the concept of a virtualized data center. "You want to allocate storage, server and network resources in an any-to-any type of environment, and that's what the V-Max is designed to do. In the future, you'll be able to make multiple Symmetrixes look like one," he said.

EMC's also announced its Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) tool, which automates the movement of data across multiple storage tiers of disk drives based on business policies, predictive models and real-time access patterns. "The machine classifies the data based on how active it is," said Bob Wambach, senior director of storage product marketing at EMC.

Wambach said the V-Max array also uses 20% less power per terabyte than the current EMC DMX-4 Symmetrix array, through reduced power and cooling requirements via Intel's multicore processor and the system's new chassis. VMware's integration with the new array enables both server and storage resources to be provisioned on demand, with centralized management, reporting and control. In addition, the system comes with EMC ControlCenter for management of both the Symmetrix V-Max storage system and VMware in order to increase visibility and automate reporting across the virtual server and storage environments.

David Vellante, the co-founder of Wikibon Project, a beta site that provides IT professionals with a social forum to discuss technical issues, said automated tiered storage within a federated Symmetrix infrastructure could be cost-competitive and advantageous. But it depends on whether EMC can ship in volume and offer software that automates the placement of data on the most cost-effective tier.

"The problem folks pursuing [a tiered storage] strategy ... are having is they really don't have an automated way to move data between Tier 1 and Tier 2," said Vellante, who is also CEO of Barometrix, an investment analytics software company. "So if EMC can give them a way to do that all within a single architecture from Tier 0 down to Tier 3 with high-capacity SATA, that gets interesting.

"But again, the software to do this is not here today; the architecture being announced [by EMC today] is the first step," he added.

A V-Max scales from 48 to 2,400 disks for up to 2 petabytes of RAIDed capacity; one to eight V-Max engines (16 directors); up to 1TB mirrored memory; up to 128 server ports for both mainframe and open systems; up to 128 back-end disk connections for solid-state disk, Fibre Channel and SATA disks; and a variable number of 2.3-GHz multicore processors with up to 128 processor cores. The V-Max can provision volumes up to 256GB in size and up to 512 hypervolumes.

EMC also will sell a single-controller V-Max SE system that scales from 48 to 360 disks, with up to 128GB of virtualized memory and Ficon, Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, EMC said.

Pricing for the V-Max SE will start at $250,000, but EMC said the number of variations in the V-Max make it impossible to set a starting price for that configuration.

Every time a new V-Max array is introduced to a storage-area network, two more front-end directors, two more back-end controllers and two more cache controllers become part of a federated architecture, Robidoux said. "And it's architected to scale out to hundreds of engines that can be spread around within a data center," she added.

Vellante said he thinks EMC's V-Max technology will promote the adoption of solid-state disks in the data center by provisioning it as a pool alongside less expensive hard disk technology. He said EMC's road map with the new technology is "visionary, ambitious, bold" and will require three things: the ability to manage physically distributed resources as a single logical image, a system that never goes down, and a high degree of automation.

"Bottom line, what Cisco/VMware are doing is building the world's next big giant computers. EMC is proposing building the big giant storage to support those next-gen computers," he said. "Interesting. Long way to go. It will have to be done with commodity components to be cost-competitive, which is clearly EMC's direction."

Vellante added that he would like to see how EMC's midrange Clariion storage arrays will be built up to leverage the same cloud-storage vision. "It is unclear how Clariion plays and as a customer, I very much want it to play," he said.

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