By all accounts from eWEEK industry sources, EMC-which has been making storage systems since the 1980s-has needed a major overhaul of its high-end systems for at least five years. The company now has gone a long way toward making that upgrade.
EMC on April 14 introduced a new high-end line of Symmetrix storage products based on a building-block-type design called Virtual Matrix that can scale from a relatively small 2PB starter system to one that zooms up into hundreds of petabytes of capacity.
That’s right, hundreds of petabytes. And with that, V-Matrix (V-Max, for short) supports hundreds of thousands of virtual machines. EMC wouldn’t be more specific; of course, all this massive storage scalability is merely theoretical.
Not even large-scale systems at film studios, scientific labs, oil and gas exploration data centers, and Tier 1 financial services companies are currently using that much storage capacity. Three to five years from now, however, things are expected to be very different.
The V-Max software is designed for the future-specifically, but not exclusively, for large enterprise data centers and server virtualization deployments, ones where storage workloads must adapt to fast-changing cycles.
The new architecture also allows workloads to be moved between various physical storage platforms as needed, with little or no latency that would affect getting the job done.
Intel’s Xeon 5500s the Key Element
Like many new data center systems coming out this spring, the V-Max line runs on Intel Xeon quad-core processors, which are both faster and take less power from the wall than previous processors.
The V-Max storage systems also feature something called Fully Automated Storage Tiering, or FAST-the ability to automatically tier data based on real-time user access requirements. FAST also takes into account data life cycle, regulatory compliance and disaster recovery needs.
FAST is not a revolutionary feature; a number of younger storage companies already offer features comparable to this. But it is a big step for EMC.
Thus, V-Max represents a completely new generation of EMC storage systems.
“This is the big one for us. I’ve been here 15 years, and it’s definitely the biggest launch I’ve ever worked on,” Barbara Robidoux, EMC’s vice president of product marketing, told eWEEK.
For the next few years, Symmetrix V-Max will be sold alongside the company’s front-line Direct Matrix Architecture (DMX-4) Symmetrix. There are no phase-outs planned for the DMX-4 in the near future, Robidoux said.
“This is not a replacement of the DMX-4 with a DMX-5. This is a brand-new architecture, and the most exciting thing about this is that it’s available immediately,” Robidoux said. “It’s really the biggest innovation that’s hit the storage industry in some number of years. It’s purpose-built for the virtualization data center.”
Blocks upon Blocks of V-Max Engines
Blocks upon Blocks of V-Max Engines
The new system is made up of blocks upon blocks of V-Max engines in containers, which have all the necessary disk and I/O ports running on multiple quad-core Xeon 5500s. They also feature as much as 128GB of random-access memory running on EMC’s standard Engenuity storage operating system.
Users can start with a one-rack system and scale up as needed by adding more V-Max engines along with their associated NAND flash, Fibre Channel or SATA (serial ATA) storage.
Each Symmetrix chassis can take as many as eight V-Max engines (totaling a full terabyte of memory) and twice as many front- and back-end connections as are currently supported by EMC’s DMX-4 systems.
“We can do all this by breaking through the constraints of a physical backplane or physical boundary,” Robidoux said. “It’s important to have virtually unprecedented scale, but you need to accompany that with software that allows you to automate and self-manage it, and mask the huge number of devices in the system.”
An entry-level V-Max SE costs about 10 percent less than a DMX-4 but offers better speed performance due to the quad-core Intel processors and enhancements to the embedded storage operating system, Robidoux said.
EMC also claims that the V-Max arrays, because they are built using industry open standards, will integrate automatically with virtual server and data center management policies that users already have in-house.
“EMC last really changed its systems in 2003,” analyst Dave Vellante of Wikibon told eWEEK. “This is basically another forklift [change]. The old stuff doesn’t play. The reason they had to do it originally was that the older Symmetrix was just not competitive. They had been way behind [the market], but the DMX did a creditable job of catching up.
“Customers weren’t investing in Symmetrix [lately]. EMC is now saying to them, ‘Hey, we’re investing in Symmetrix, so you should invest too.’ The other piece is that EMC is making its costs much more competitive with the traditional midrange modular storage. In time they will give customers ways to automate it, so they can do tiered storage all with EMC rather than creating tiered-storage silos between Tier 1 and 2,” Vellante said.
EMC’s original Symmetrix storage arrays were designed by Moshe Yanai, the man who helped send the company on its way to world leadership in disk storage back in the 1990s.
Yanai founded his own storage company, XIV, in 2000 and sold it to IBM in January 2008 for a reported $300 million.
For more information on the V-Max systems, go here.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that the top capacity of the V-Max starter system is 2TB and that Intel Xeon 5500 Nehalem chips are not used in this new product.