EMC upgrades Clariion line of storage arrays

While EMC Corp. is trumpeting the significance of new features in its new midrange storage array line, one analyst said it’s the number of improvements, not the improvements themselves, that is significant.

“What stands out as important is (EMC has) done so much at once,” said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters of the launch of EMC’s Clariion CX4 series Tuesday morning. “It’s a fairly long list. I don’t think they’ve ducked anything.”

Among the features that are an upgrade over CX3 line that it replaces, the CX4 boasts a new 64-bit operating system, multicore processors, dual Fibre Channel and iSCSI I/O, the availability of solid state and SATA disk drives, virtual provisioning and more.

And one of the innovations customers like, said Barbara Robidoux, vice-president of storage product marketing for EMC, is in the product names – they indicate the maximum number of disks in the array. The CX4-120, for example, will hold up to 120 Fibre Channel or SATA drives. Other arrays in the line hold up to 240, 480 and 960 drives respectively. The two largest arrays will also accommodate solid state flash drives.

Flash drives are much faster and are particularly ideal for heavily transactional applications, Robidoux said. She deflected the criticism that sectors on flash drives can survive a finite number of writes, saying the technology is specifically designed for heavier traffic. “It’s a completely different technology,” she said, and more reliable than spinning drives.

“With solid state, there are limitations,” Peters said. Wear-levelling technology, which controls the placement of data on the drive, can keep sectors on the drive from fatiguing. “But let’s face facts. All technology fails,” including spinning drives, he said.

That said, the technology seems to be standing up in EMC’s higher-end Symmetrix arrays. “I have not heard anything, whisper or not, about problems on the Symmetrix,” Peters said.

Robidoux said the separation of the I/O from the storage complex itself allows the array to run both FC and iSCSI fabrics. According to Peters, that’s not new, but the implementation is.

Previously, changing the I/O would be a messy, offline job – if it could be done at all. By separating the connection from the processor, it’s much easier and can be done online. “It’s a much better implementation,” Peters said.

“It’s an indication of where the market is going that iSCSI is standard,” Peters said. And it’s reflective of the contrary nature of the market position of EMC, a company Peters said can fairly be criticized for not showing the technology leadership proportionate to its share of the market. On the one hand, he said, product development acknowledges market trends; on the other, the sheer weight of EMC in the market defines trends as well.

One trend Robidoux said EMC is responding to is the demand for lower power consumption. The CX4’s adaptive cooling means fans spin only as fast as necessary, which Robidoux said can reduce cooling requirements by 50 per cent. It’s low-power SATA drives spin at 5,400 rpm rather than 7,200 rpm and are 30 per cent more energy efficient. Policy-based spindown is ideal for applications like backup to disk and archiving, which sometime have long downtimes, she said.

In terms of pricing, the base CX$-120 with five drives starts at $31,000 – the same price as the bottom-of-the-line CX3. Toward the top of the line, Robidoux said, there’s a 10 to 20 per cent premium over CX3 prices, but for twice the performance and capacity. A CX4-960 would start at about $250,000.

Peters said it’s difficult to get a handle on pricing metrics.

“Everyone has a lot more flexibility in terms of the system they buy,” he said. Stack the machine with flash drives for their 30-times speed premium, and the price goes up accordingly. Use lower-priced SATA drives for Tier 3 storage, the price goes down. “It would be a very different price per terabyte,” he said.

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