EMC Touts Virtual Storage Concept

EMC's new Virtual Storage strategy promises to be a key topic when EMC World 2010 rolls around in May. EMC's idea promises to remove the distance limitations from traditional storage to create a scenario where pooled computing and storage resources can be accessed and managed regardless of their locations, with no hindrance around latency, bandwidth or coherency.

Pat Gelsinger had recently come to EMC last fall after almost 30 years at Intel when he started to take a look at the projects going on inside the data storage giant.

It was then that Gelsinger, now the president and COO for EMC's Information Infrastructure Products group, saw the work the company's researchers were doing into using a caching technique to help grow the idea of federated data and conquer the distance quandary that's always vexed IT professionals.

"He said, -That's it. That's going to be big,'" Brian Gallagher, divisional president of EMC's Symmetrix and Virtualization product group, said in a recent interview at the company's Hopkinton, Mass., headquarters.

Several months later, Gelsinger and other EMC officials introduced their Virtual Storage strategy March 11 during a conference with industry analysts and in a lengthy blog post by Chuck Hollis, vice president of global marketing and CTO at EMC.

What EMC introduced at the time was more a concept rather than a product or roadmap, but the idea has generated a lot of interest among analysts and others in the industry. And EMC officials are working to keep that interest going as they enter the final month before the EMC World 2010 show in Boston May 10-13.

Gallagher said Virtual Storage will be a key theme at the show, and speculation is the first product tied to the Virtual Storage strategy could be announced there.

The idea of Virtual Storage has grown out of the work that EMC, its VMware subsidiary and others have done in virtualization and cloud computing, particularly private clouds, Gallagher said.

Gelsinger described the private cloud as an environment where businesses can seamlessly access pools of computing and data resources in a secure fashion regardless of where they're housed-whether it's in their own data centers or external compute cloud environments hosted by others.

The pooling of these IT resources creates a federated storage environment, and it's an environment that the IT department still has to have control over.

Key hurdles to this vision of a private cloud has been the limitations of storage-in particular, the limitation of distance. Even in storage virtualization environments, the data is still tied to physical systems, and currently is traditionally limited to individual data centers. Virtual Storage should not be confused with storage virtualization, officials said.

"Data distance is among the most obstinate of data center problems," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, wrote in a March 17 report.

The biggest issue is that the farther away data is, the large the problems that arise around latency, bandwidth and data coherency, King said.

"Why? In part, because you can't -fix' the speed of light-even in the best circumstances, the movement of data faces inherent physical limits," he wrote. "In addition, bandwidth is not free and is also distributed unequally, particularly beyond urban and suburban centers."

Like server virtualization-where applications and operating systems are separated from physical systems-EMC's Virtual Storage strategy will separate the data from physical storage devices. The vendor is using technology gained through its acquisition of YottaYotta in 2008 to create a "distributed cache coherence" to facilitate and manage data across distributed computing environments.

The combination of distributed cache coherence and global federation of storage will negate the challenges brought about by distance, according to Gallagher.

"We're eliminating distance as a problem and making distance an enabler," he said.

"With global federation, multiple compute elements see a shared local and global environment with resource pooling and the illusion that petabytes of storage reside locally," Jane Clabby, an analyst with Clabby Associates, said in a March 17 report. "The same set of technologies manages both local and global storage resources."

In his blog, EMC's Hollis said the possibilities of Virtual Storage are great.

"You'd be able to seriously consider moving thousands of VMs over thousands of miles," Hollis wrote. "Or you could easily play the market on energy costs by moving workloads to where they're most efficient to run.

"It'd be much easier to aggregate larger data centers from smaller ones-or put information closer to users, if that was needed. Applications could move to alternate locations on demand and we'd eliminate major sources of downtime."

It also is something that would benefit smaller business as much as larger enterprises, he said.

EMC officials up to this point have talked about Virtual Storage more as a concept and direction rather than outline the technologies, IP or products that will be involved. Gallagher described the discussion around Virtual Storage as the first step in what will be a journey.

"You'll hear more and more about it, but it is real," he said.

Gallagher did say that the first product will be a physical appliance, but declined to elaborate on what it will be or when it will be released. However, he added that Virtual Storage will be discussed further at EMC World.

David Hill, an analyst with the Mesabi Group, said in a March 17 report that Gelsinger said he was confident EMC has been able to solve the traditional problems around storage and distance.

"EMC is now publicly committed to being able to build practical storage federation using virtual storage on top of distributed cache coherence," Hill wrote.

Despite the lack of details, analysts were intrigued by the possibilities of EMC's vision. Pund-IT's King said noted that data centers could be built in places were energy is cheap and plentiful, regardless of how far it is from end users. King and Clabby also talked about the ability to move resources to where workers are in what they called a "follow the sun, follow the moon" approach.

The analysts also outlined a scenario where data can be moved when an environmental threat-a hurricane, for example-arises.

Gallagher also said that businesses will be able to run some lower-level tasks-such as batch processing-in data centers were energy costs are lower.