EMC overhauls Symmetrix architecture

Posted on May 01, 2009

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By Kevin Komiega

EMC last month unveiled a new high-end storage architecture and Symmetrix systems that blow away the current line of Symmetrix DMX-4 arrays in terms of performance, scale and automated management in virtualized data centers.

EMC's Virtual Matrix Architecture combines industry-standard components with Symmetrix capabilities, enabling users to build massive systems capable of scaling to hundreds of thousands of terabytes and tens of millions of IOPS – all aimed at supporting hundreds of thousands of VMware and other virtual machines in a single federated storage infrastructure.

At the core of the Symmetrix V-Max is a building block called the V-Max Engine. Each engine houses multiple Intel Xeon Quad-core processors with up to 128GB of memory and up to 16 host and 16 drive channel connections. The Virtual Matrix Architecture allows the engines to interconnect and share resources, which allows V-Max systems to scale to 1,024GB of global memory with twice as many front-end and back-end connections as Symmetrix DMX-4 arrays.

The first product based on the Virtual Matrix Architecture, the Symmetrix V-Max system, has been termed by EMC as "the world's largest high-end storage array." It supports up to 128 Intel Xeon processor cores, 1TB of global memory, multi-protocol connectivity (Fibre Channel, FICON, Gigabit Ethernet, iSCSI) and flash, Fibre Channel and SATA drives.

The V-Max scales to 2,400 drives with a maximum capacity of 2PB, all of which is managed as a single virtual system.

David Donatelli, president of EMC's Storage Division, says the V-Max is designed for the virtual world, while the DMX-4 will remain the primary option for the "physical" data center.

Donatelli claims that entry pricing for the V-Max systems will present a compelling value proposition for customers. The V-Max costs as much as 10% less than the DMX-4, depending on configuration. Pricing for an entry-level V-Max SE (Single Engine) system starts at approximately $250,000.

V-Max systems feature automated storage provisioning and integration with a range of VMware provisioning tools for on-demand provisioning of server and storage resources. In addition, EMC ControlCenter supports both the V-Max storage system and VMware for better visibility and automated reporting across virtual server and storage environments.

The real value of the V-Max system – aside from its highly touted "24 by forever" availability – may be its automated tiering software, which is slated for release later this year. The software, dubbed Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST), automates the movement of data across multiple storage tiers based upon business policies, predictive models and real-time access patterns. EMC hopes the FAST feature will further accelerate the adoption of flash drives by letting customers more effectively mix flash drives with Fibre Channel and SATA drives.

EMC also introduced a new replication feature called Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF) Extended Distance Protection (EDP) for the V-Max systems, which has been integrated with VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) and supports EMC Replication Manager for protection of VMware environments.

EMC's chairman, president and CEO, Joe Tucci, called the Virtual Matrix Architecture and Symmetrix V-Max systems the most significant Symmetrix innovations since EMC debuted the platform 18 years ago.

"The Virtual Matrix Architecture provides a scale-up architecture with the flexibility and cost benefits of a scale-out architecture," Tucci said. He added that the V-Max is designed to work with emerging virtualization technologies, including VMware's Virtual Data Center Operating System and Cisco's recently announced Unified Computing System (UCS).

"Five months ago, we released a new object-based storage system specifically designed for cloud computing, called Atmos," says Tucci. "At the same time we have been working on [the V-Max] block-based, high-end storage systems designed for workloads that virtual data centers and private clouds will need to handle."

David Vellante, co-founder and contributor to The Wikibon Project, says V-Max is "visionary, ambitious and bold," but EMC has a long way to go to deliver on the promise of the new architecture.

"This will require three things to be successful: the ability to manage physically distributed resources as a single logical image, a system that never goes down, and high degrees of automation," says Vellante. "It will have to be done with commodity components to be cost competitive, which is clearly EMC's direction. It means the idea of an array as we know it today changes dramatically."


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