EMC’s new Symmetrix array targets virtual data centers

EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass. is unveiling a new Symmetrix storage array designed to support heavily virtualized data centers with hundreds of petabytes of storage and mass quantities of virtual servers.

EMC is positioning the Symmetrix V-Max storage system (short for Virtual Matrix), announced last week, as a second flagship product alongside its DMX-4. EMC claims its new Virtual Matrix architecture will deliver massive scalability, delivering tens of millions of IOPS (input/output operations per second) and the ability to manage storage for hundreds of thousands of virtual machines from a single management system. The system combines flash-based solid-state drives with Fibre Channel and SATA.

The V-Max is EMC’s most important announcement since the introduction of the first Symmetrix in 1990, says Bob Wambach, senior director of Symmetrix marketing. V-Max uses Intel Xeon quad-core processors to speed up data access, along with software that automates provisioning of storage to physical and virtual machines. The Virtual Matrix provides massive scalability by connecting and sharing resources, such as I/O ports, CPUs, mirrored global memory, interconnects and a storage operating system, according to EMC.

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While server virtualization makes one server act as many independent virtual machines, storage virtualization takes 1,000 disparate elements and makes them appear as one, says Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Server virtualization by itself isn’t as useful as it should be, because when a virtual machine moves from one box to another it might lose access to its data, he says.

EMC’s new system ensures that virtual machines maintain access to data even as they move, he says. Moreover, when an enterprise adds more terabytes, the system automatically rearranges itself and redistributes the load. The real key is reducing the amount of manual processes required of a storage administrator.

“Storage today has a million little knobs and buttons and hooks, and you need to have a Ph.D. to get your data sometimes,” Duplessie says. “This takes all the tactical, operational elements and lets the machine do it.”

There are two easily identifiable drawbacks with EMC’s new system, Duplessie notes. It is expensive and raises the specter of vendor lock-in, particularly because EMC owns VMware, the major server virtualization company.

V-Max is generally available at a starting price of $250,000, which covers one 42U rack system with about 200TB. Full-featured systems that scale up to many petabytes will cost millions of dollars.

The insertion of flash into EMC arrays is nothing new, but analysts have criticized the company because its systems force storage administrators to manually move data from tier to tier. EMC announced that it will address that shortcoming with FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering), a new software tool that “will automate the movement of data across multiple storage tiers based upon business policies, predictive models and real-time access patterns.” This type of software, already offered by vendors such as Compellent, helps prevent the wasteful practice of storing rarely-accessed data on expensive flash drives.

FAST will be available in the fourth quarter of 2009 for both V-Max and DMX-4.

The V-Max will not replace the DMX-4, nor will it make EMC’s new Atmos cloud storage software obsolete, the company says. Atmos is designed to manage petabytes of information across tens or hundreds of geographic locations, using x86 servers with high-capacity, low-cost SATA drives.

Atmos is mainly for unstructured or semi-structured data needed to run social networking applications and Web sites that provide content like photos and video. Symmetrix arrays, Wambach says, are for mission-critical applications including ERP, transactional systems, e-mail, databases and electronic trading.

EMC has optimized V-Max for VMware’s hypervisor and Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization software, but not for Citrix’s XenServer. “We see right now that the majority of customer demand is for VMware and Microsoft,” Wambach says.

Although EMC stressed that V-Max will not replace the DMX-4, it said the new product triples the performance of the DMX-4 while offering twice the connectivity, and three times the usable capacity. V-Max is also more power efficient, EMC says.

EMC says it has shipped more than 30 V-Max systems to beta customers including the European bank UniCredit Group, which is testing V-Max to improve database performance during peak workload times.

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