EMC offers disk array as tape alternative

EMC Corp., continuing to look for ways to jump-start its sales, last week announced a relatively inexpensive disk array for storing fixed data, such as check images, software source code and medical X-rays. Prospective users said the device could provide a speedier alternative to tape storage.

List prices on the Centera array start at US$101,500 for a 5TB system plus $103,200 for companion storage management software. Analysts said that puts the price of Centera at about US$0.02 per megabyte, compared with US$0.08 and US$0.12 per megabyte for Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC’s high-end Symmetrix arrays.

Tape storage typically costs less than a penny per megabyte. But some users who are eyeing Centera said they’re hopeful that it will give them faster and more efficient access to data than tape does.

Michael Streb, director of technology architecture at New York-based Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Corp., said he’s considering using Centera or other so-called nearline disk devices to store copies of CDs and videos.

Warner/Elektra/Atlantic now uses tape libraries made by Louisville, Colo.-based Storage Technology Corp. But, Streb said, “it’s tough for us to restore large volumes of digital assets in a reasonable time frame for our business users.”

EMC isn’t alone in targeting fixed data storage. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Network Appliance Inc. recently released a file server that was designed primarily for data back-ups but can also be used to archive data such as financial records.

But EMC’s storage management software gives it a jump on rival vendors, said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at The Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass.

EMC called Centera a “content-addressed storage” device because its software creates a unique 27-character identifier for each document or image stored in the system. A new file with a new identifier is created each time the data is changed, so the data can’t be overwritten. In addition, EMC said, the content-based fingerprint lets applications retrieve data without having to know the physical location of the information.

Ellen Moloney, vice-president of outpatient services at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Mass., said she plans to test a Centera system in the hope that it will let radiologists and doctors instantly share images. That process is currently handled by “a film library staff dealing with manual films,” Moloney said.