EMC Enters The Virtual Matrix


Experts say the latest launch is the much needed major overhaul EMC’s high-end systems needed

EMC has 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.

And with that, V-Matrix (V-Max, for short) supports up into the hundreds of thousands of virtual machines. EMC wouldn’t be more specific; of course, of all this massive storage scalability is merely theoretical.

Not even large-scale systems at film studios, scientific labs, oil and gas exploration data centres and Tier 1 financial services companies currently use 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 centres and server virtualisation 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.

Like many new data centre systems coming out this spring, the V-Max line runs on the new Intel Xeon 5500 quad-core Nehalem processors, that 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 (FAST), the ability to automatically tier data based on real-time user access requirements. FAST also takes into account data lifecycle, 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, Robideaux said.

“This is not a replacement of the DMX4 with a DMX5. 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 virtualisation data centre.”

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 runnning 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 unpredecedented 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 centre management policies 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 siloes 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 company, XIV storage, in 2000 and sold it to IBM in January 2008 for a reported $300 million.

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