EMC Corp. has refreshed its flagship Symmetrix storage array line to keep up with the virtual data centre era.

The storage giant released its Virtual Matrix Architecture (V-Max) earlier this week and plans to integrate its capabilities into its long-standing Symmetrix platform. The systems will run on the new Intel Corp. Xeon 5500 quad-core Nehalem processors.

The new architecture, purpose-built to support virtual data centres, uses what EMC is calling an “engine building block” approach. The company’s goal is to create a more modular storage architecture that has the ability to grow as storage needs inevitably expand over the next five years.

“This is targeted at large enterprises with huge server farms,” said John Sloan, a research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. “They’re going to have hundreds and hundreds of VMs and they’ll want to connect them to a seamless storage pool.”

EMC’s “building block” approach, Sloan said, essentially takes a storage server, host and disk I/O port, multi-core storage CPUs, memory and virtual matrix interconnects, clusters all of these nodes together and virtualizes them to allow for a more scalable environment.

“This allows you to have one pool of storage in a particular node, but then as you grow, it will be easy to add another brick or node,” he added.

EMC said that systems can scale up into hundreds of petabytes of capacity and could eventually support hundreds of thousands of virtual machines — if necessary, of course.

Interestingly, the disk drives themselves are separated from the engine — which is only used to connect to the pools of servers and storage. The end result for EMC customers will be an integrated virtual environment with access to everything.

Symmetric V-Max will support up to eight of these engines, but over time the company plans to expand this number into the hundreds.

“It’s very difficult for a lot of these virtual environments to get what they need today, but then also handle growth as they virtualize more of their applications,” said Scott Delandy, senior product manager at EMC. “We’re giving customers a cost effective building block to allow them to get started, but also making it very easy, transparent and non-disruptive to allow them to scale to almost unlimited amounts of capacity.”

To get started with V-Max’s building blocks, customers will expect to spend about $250,000 at the entry level.

Sloan said that while the V-Max is a step in the right direction for EMC, the modular approach to virtual storage is not a novel idea.

“Everybody in storage now has a play around virtualization and support for virtual servers,” he said. “EMC is definitely integrated well with VMware and there’s some things going on here that are compelling, but at the same token, they’re not the only ones doing it.”

And because the storage needs of virtual servers are not hugely different than other servers, another criticism facing this new release is the idea that V-Max is not fundamentally any better suited to virtual data centres than other large disk arrays.

But that theory doesn’t hold any water for one industry observer.

“The mighty-V is just as good for physical as it is for virtual,” said Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst covering the storage market for Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. “Why it is super duper for the virtual world is that it is one thing — whether relatively small or huge — it’s always one thing.”

He added that having one box contain all your company’s data means that when a virtual or physical server instance moves from point A to point G, the data will always go along with it. And with PowerPath integration into VMware, the software allows for I/O optimization to and from the system and can automatically load balance virtual server workloads within the storage hardware.

“No matter the physical or virtual, ‘scale-out’ systems — those that scale independently in any dimension while always remaining ‘one thing’ — are a mandatory part of the new world order for next generation data centres,” he said.

According to Delandy, scripting the connections of physical servers to the storage system and devices has often been a manual process.

“When you’re dealing with one large system that has a fairly small number of connections it’s not a big issue, but as you start building out larger virtual environments it becomes a challenge,” he said.

“If I’ve got one Unix server, all it cares about is being mapped into its storage, but in the virtual server environment, I need to map all these servers, because if one virtual server has moved from one physical server to another without being mapped to the storage, the application can’t access its data.”

V-Max’s auto provisioning feature will be able to accomplish this task in 80 per cent less administration time, Delandy added.

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