EMC formally debuts new Symmetrix line

EMC Corp. on Monday unveiled the long-awaited line of its high-end Symmetrix disk arrays, which are built on a new internal architecture that leapfrogs throughput more than four times over its closest competitor and allows customers to buy small and scale the arrays into enterprise-class configurations.

In what it’s calling its Direct Matrix architecture, EMC’s DMX800, DMX1000 and DMX2000 arrays boast up to 128 direct, dedicated paths between channel directors and internal caches. That new architecture boosts system bandwidth from 1.6GB in previous model Symmetrix arrays to 64GB – more than four times that of Symmetrix’s closest competitor, Hitachi’s Lightning 9900V array, David Donatelli, executive vice-president of storage platforms operations, said during a news announcement in New York today.

“What we’ve done here is come up with first storage architecture that’s nonblocking,” Donatelli said during a live Webcast of the announcement. “What that means in English is there’s no sharing. The whole idea [is] that everybody gets their own highway. When we want to add more performance, we just add more dedicated links.”

The announcement shook up up the storage industry, with competitors such as IBM and Hitachi Data Systems Corp. scrambling to steal EMC’s thunder with technology upgrades of their own.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Hitachi last week tried to preempt EMC’s move by announcing that it has doubled the storage capacity of the Lightning 9900V to 126TB in a RAID-5 configuration by adding new 146GB drives.

In addition, IBM today is unveiling a Bluefin-compliant storage management interface for its Enterprise Storage Server Model 800, known informally as Shark. Bluefin, a draft specification that the Storage Networking Industry Association hopes to finalize by the third quarter, is aimed at making it easier to manage multivendor storage-area networks. [Please see IBM adds Bluefin to Shark servers.]

IBM also plans to announce new disk drives that operate 50 per cent faster than the current devices used in the Shark arrays, as well as expanded data copying and disaster recovery features for mainframes that run Linux.

“Both [IBM and Hitachi] are clearly paying a lot of attention to EMC’s announcement. They have no choice,” said Tony Prigmore, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass. “IBM’s protecting its mainframe position, and Hitachi is protecting its capacity lead.”

Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC, which formerly sold only monolithic systems in its high-end array, chose to add modular design to one of the three new products. The Symmetrix DMX800 is rack-mountable and scales from eight to 16 front-end ports and from 1.2 to 17.5TB of raw capacity. It can also scale from 4 to 32GB of cache for open systems environments.

The Symmetrix DMX1000 is a single-bay system that scales from eight to 48 front-end ports, from 3.5 to 21TB of raw capacity (3 to 18.5TB usable) and from 4 to 64GB of cache for mainframe and open systems environments.

The Symmetrix DMX2000 is a dual-bay system that scales from eight to 96 front-end ports, from 7 to 42TB raw capacity (6.1 to 37TB usable) and from 8 to 128GB of cache for mainframe and open systems environments.

“They [EMC] really believe the architecture they have puts them at a tremendous performance advantage,” Prigmore said. “That means when I get an unexpected workload, now I can manage through it without compromising the performance of any given application.”

Donatelli said that he expects more than 50 per cent of this quarter’s Symmetrix sales to come from the new DMX line and that the new products will scale more easily as component technology grows in capacity and speeds. “With the interconnect we’ve built here…as we get faster drives and processors in the marketplace, customers will begin to see that performance [increase as well],” he said.

EMC, which has lost market share in the high-end array marketplace during the last two quarters of 2002, expects its new line to help it recover.

Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, said in a research note that EMC’s ability to boost Symmetrix sales and regain lost market share depends “in part on how it chooses to price its software and how competitors such as [Hitachi] respond in hardware pricing.”

The new DMX line starts as low as US$400,000 and runs as high as US$2.5 million per system, depending on the capacity and configuration. Donatelli said the overall cost, however, is US$0.04 to US$0.0 8 per usable megabyte of storage.

The DMX line doesn’t support IBM mainframe technology, which is known as Ficon. EMC President and CEO Joe Tucci said support for Ficon won’t be available until this summer.

Sacconaghi said he doesn’t expect a full refresh of the Lightning product line until next year. But Hitachi will likely announce several capacity and bandwidth upgrades this year, he said.

Likewise, Brian Truskowski, general manager of storage software at IBM, said the planned addition of a Bluefin-based programming interface “is only the beginning of what will be a series of product announcements…around the issue of interoperability.”