EMC Revs Up Symmetrix

Company plans Symmetrix upgrade in 2003 with Fibre Channel replacing SCSI.

After a lengthy sabbatical, EMC Corp. is developing updates for its Symmetrix enterprise storage systems that will employ Fibre Channel internal designs for the first time. The company is also revamping one of its Clariion storage systems for the midrange market with added capacity.

The Symmetrix moves, seen largely as necessities, should bring the EMC products in line with such high-end storage systems as those from rival Hitachi Ltd.

"Its about time," said Tom Black, a storage administrator at Petro-Canada, in Mississauga, Ontario. Black manages 24 terabytes of EMCs Symmetrix systems and Clariion-based NAS (network-attached storage) in two data centers. "Id actually started looking more closely at Hitachi and some other things on the market in anticipation that EMC didnt have something up their sleeve."

The forthcoming update to Symmetrix, Version 6.0, is due early next year and will be the products first major update in 12 years. The most notable change to the system will be its use of a Fibre Channel internal architecture instead of its current SCSI design, sources said.

The design change, however, will not affect user interactions with the microcode—rather the way Symmetrixs cache, disk drives, host interfaces and processors communicate internally, sources said.

But moving to Fibre Channel will also help the Hopkinton, Mass., company greatly reduce production costs, as a similar design is already used in EMCs midrange Clariion products.

What users will see are faster bandwidth, larger caches and faster processors, the sources said. For example, it is expected to scale to at least 144 terabytes and feature 10GB-to-15GB-per-second bandwidth, sources said. Such performance would equal Tokyo-based Hitachis recent announcement of its 9980 system, which is due later this year.

In the interim, EMC is planning to roll out Symmetrix Version 5.6 this fall, which will feature similar upgraded components but maintain the Symmetrix 5.5 SCSI main design, sources said.

EMC had hoped to push the new Symmetrix boxes out in the third or fourth quarter of this year, but system complexity and a desire to move old inventory of Version 5.5 systems have postponed the delivery until early next year, sources said. There are 50,000 Symmetrix systems installed worldwide, ranging in price from $200,000 to $2 million.

EMC officials declined to comment on unannounced products.

On the Clariion front, EMC is evolving its reseller agreement with Dell Computer Corp., according to Russ Holt, vice president and general manager of storage systems and servers for the Round Rock, Texas, computer maker. Dell currently resells the Clariion FC4700-2, FC4500 and FC5300 systems, as well as the IP4700 NAS version.

This fall, EMC will give the FC4500 density improvements and 2G-bps support. Dell will manufacture that, said Holt, who added that the company has begun buying the host bus adapters and switches.

Dell is also working on qualifying its PowerVault NAS series for EMC storage area networks; PowerVault NAS runs Microsoft Corp.s Server Appliance Kit 2.0. But Dell wont invest too heavily in EMC software and will instead partner with an undisclosed third-party systems and storage management company this fall, Holt said.

The forthcoming hardware moves are good news for customers, many of whom were disheartened by EMCs public emphasis on its AutoIS software products over hardware during the past year.

"For the last six to eight months, all weve heard from EMC is, Were reinventing ourselves as a software company," said Petro-Canadas Black. "Its an interesting conflict in the message. Wheres the credibility?"

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