EMC's Light to Speed: Flash, VNX, and Software-Defined

Posted on September 05, 2013 By Drew Robb

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EMC held an extravaganza in Milan, Italy this week featuring Formula 1 racing cars and a full gas tank of press announcements.

Titled “Speed to Lead,” the company interspersed Formula 1 imagery and successes from Team Lotus with the latest on the EMC technology and R&D front.

Here are some of the highlights.

Disruptive Flash

The EMC propaganda machine is pushing flash storage full blast, and for good reason. EMC President David Goulden called flash a disruptive technology – and it is one of those rare items that merits that label.

At first glance, it is an expensive luxury. Compared to cheap capacity SATA disk, PCIe flash is 40x the cost and Solid State Drives (SSDs) are 30x the cost. But Goulden laid out the sales pitch, which is clearly working for the massive EMC sales force and partner ecosystem: PCIe flash and SSD provide a latency of 100 micro-seconds and 200 micro-seconds, respectively, compared to a tortoise-like six milliseconds for capacity disk.

That pushes IOPS to 100,000 and 20,000, respectively, compared to 160 for SATA. So when you look at IOPS/$, you get 40x more bang for your buck with PCIe flash and 20x more from SSD.

“Flash changes everything,” said Dave Vellante, CEO of Wikibon. “Disk is the last bastion of electromechanical technology; everything else travels at the speed of light.”

VNX Upgrade

Rich Napolitano, President of Unified Storage Division of EMC, covered the changes and upgrades made to the EMC VNX family of arrays. The company now promises one third the price for the same performance of the previous generation. “The VNX family has been flash optimized to deliver one million IOPS,” said Napolitano. “The biggest VNX systems can be configured to hold up to 6 PB of spinning disk or 600 TB of flash or anything in between.”

The line of unified storage systems consists of the VNX5200, VNX5400, VNX5600, VNX5800, VNX7600, VNX8000 and VNX-F. They come with new MCx software to improve the integration of flash, and thereby boost application and file performance by up to a factor of four.

“EMC has taken the time and invested in reworking the internal software of the VNX to leverage new and emerging hardware capabilities more effectively,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group.

Big Bucks

Most customers are likely to combine a good portion of spinning disk with some flash. And the more flash, the higher the cost. What we are looking at here is EMC’s continued reinvention of its basic product – the storage array.

By adding flash and a lot of software bells and whistles, the company continues to move a lotof storage hardware. Napolitano said individual VNX units start at $20,000 and go up to several hundred thousand each.

Disk Boom

Despite all EMC’s push on flash, though, it is disk that makes the money. Goulden rolled out the numbers. After 20 years of operation, he said, EMC reached its first Exabyte of capacity sold in 2005. By 2010, it achieved that milestone in a single year; by 2011 in a quarter and this year in a single month. “Soon we expect to sell an Exabyte to a single customer,” said Goulden.

Software-Defined Data Center

EMC introduced software-defined storage at its EMC World event in May. Now it has moved up the scale to embrace the software-defined data center via its ViPR platform. The company anticipates that the current wave of cloud fervor will result in more private than public clouds. “Twelve percent of apps are predicted to end up in the public cloud,” said Goulden. “Most will sit in private clouds and ViPR let’s you manage both.”

ViPR Released

At EMC World, ViPR’s intended date of release was late this year or early next. Goulden surprised the attendees by announcing its general availability this month. That doesn’t mean it is the finished article. It will be released with basis services that will be added to over time. The first iteration will come equipped with a ViPR Controller and ViPR Object Data Services to store, access and manipulate objects. That enables users to view objects as files and provide file access performance without latency.

vSpex

EMC has been partnering with Cisco and VMware on its VCE collaboration for a couple of years now. Their combined vBlock integrated storage, blade server, networking and virtualization product has been a success in the market.

And now, the VNX has been included in the package resulting in what EMC PR Jeremy Burton is calling the world’s fastest-growing reference architecture. Known as EMC vSpex, he said it delivers 2x more VMs at the same price.

“vSpex is aimed more at the small to mid-sized enterprise market,” said Burton.

Project Nile

The much-touted Project Nile is set for release in the first half of next year, according to Burton. EMC is referring to this as elastic cloud storage.

“We have separated the control path from the data path,” said Burton. “The Project Nile Elastic Cloud Storage platform delivers private cloud control, security and flexibility.”

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