EMC Unveils All-Flash PCIe Serverlike Device

CEO Joe Tucci denies his company is moving into the server business, but EMC's soon-to-come solid-state device appears to clash with his contention.

LAS VEGAS-Even though it appears to be only a matter of time before world storage market leader EMC officially enters the server market, Joe Tucci will admit to nothing of the sort at this point.

"No, we're not," EMC's triple-threat president, CEO and chairman of the board told eWEEK May 9 when asked that question at a crowded press conference at EMC World 2011 here at the Venetian Hotel.

"We are playing at the server level in many areas, no question about it. But as for building devices for the server market, we have partners that already do a good job at it, so we're not going there."

Even so, it sure looks like EMC is edging closer to becoming a player in the server business so it can become a full-service systems provider. EMC still needs to provide servers and networking-namely, a router of some kind-to earn that level of distinction.

Tucci was answering questions in response to the company's announcement that it will launch a new PCIe/NAND flash-based serverlike device, code-named Project Lightning, next fall.

With a PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) card that slides into a slot within a server to do a specific job-in this case, moving virtual machines and their workloads around-EMC will be jumping into a new tank of sharks named IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Oracle and Cisco Systems. Of course, EMC has been competing with all those companies and many more in the storage, data protection and virtualization software sectors for most of the past decade, so this is nothing new.

The whole idea is for the data and its processing node in a virtualized system to be as close together as possible for efficiency reasons. Lightning is designed to provide this agility.

EMC Entering a New Market

Nonetheless, this does represent a whole new market for the Hopkinton, Mass.-based corporation, even though Lightning is not your standard, full-on data center server that one might find in an HP or IBM catalog. At its most basic, Lightning can be described as an adjunct server-level device.

The Lightning announcement here at EMC World was part of a larger EMC corporate announcement about the company's intention to increase its reliance on NAND flash storage during the next few years.

In addition to the new storage "semi-server," EMC said it plans to design, test and qualify MLC-based SSDs (solid-state drives) for enterprise-class applications and incorporate them into its systems later this year. The company also said it will introduce an all-flash configuration of its VNX unified storage system that will run more virtual servers with heavier workloads.

Finally, to help guide these projects, EMC has started a dedicated NAND flash business unit to exploit new market opportunities.

EMC likes to remind people that it was the first company to incorporate flash-based solid-state drives into enterprise storage in 2008 and has shipped nearly 14 petabytes of flash capacity in storage arrays since 2010-more than anyone in the industry. Half of all EMC Symmetrix VMAX high-end storage systems and VNX unified storage systems (which launched only last January) ordered now incorporate flash capacity of some sort, mostly for boot-up and specific application use.

Tucci has predicted that by the end of 2012, all of EMC's data center products will have NAND flash aboard for one purpose or another.

Integrated with EMC's FAST Tiering-ware

Sporting a generous implementation of DRAM cache and NAND flash storage, Lightning will be integrated with EMC's FAST (fully automated storage tiering) software to optimize data placement from the storage array into another server for accelerated performance, EMC President and Chief Operating Officer of Information Infrastructure Products Pat Gelsinger said.

PCIe cards are used in PCs, servers and storage arrays as a motherboard-level interconnect (to link motherboard-mounted peripherals) and as an expansion card interface for add-in boards. The PCIe standard, now under review, is designed to replace the older PCI, PCI-X and AGP standards.

A key difference between PCIe and earlier buses is a topology based on point-to-point serial links, rather than a shared parallel bus architecture.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...