EMC is continuing to build out its virtualization portfolio with the release of the second generation of its Invista block-level virtualization product. With Invista version 2.0, EMC has increased the availability, capacity, and scalability of the system while lowering the initial cost of entry, all in an effort to strengthen its position in the virtualization market against IBM and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).

To boost availability, EMC tweaked the architecture so that continuous operations are now facilitated through the new distributed control path cluster (CPC). CPC nodes can be physically separated by up to 300 meters, allowing Invista to continue operating in the event of localized failures.

With version 2.0, Invista also supports more capacity and more simultaneous migrations. EMC has doubled the number of supported virtual volumes to 8,000 and increased the number of concurrent migration sessions from eight to a maximum of forty. In addition, coupled with traditional front-end load-balancing, Invista now offers back-end load-balancing.

Invista 2.0 has also been tested and certified for use with VMware ESX server. Rob Emsley, EMC’s senior director of software product marketing, says the combination of VMware and Invista offers users flexibility in how they deploy, manage, and protect information regardless of the server or storage platforms in their infrastructure.

Emsley says the upgrades in Invista 2.0 are all designed to simplify the data migration process. “Our certification with VMware Infrastructure 3 and the changes we’ve made in availability, scalability, and overall management help customers who are looking for a virtualization solution that can give them non-disruptive data migration and mobility,” he says.

Emsley says with double the support for virtual volumes and storage elements, plus a 5x increase in the number of simultaneous mobility sessions, Invista users can perform larger scope projects much more quickly than before.
“We introduced back-end load-balancing for balancing the I/O traffic through the fabric,” Emsley says. “Now Invista provides wire-speed performance because it is not in the data path between the servers and storage.”

Invista 2.0 also features some updated management capabilities. Users can now create storage pools, which they can define in tiers thanks to Invista’s new heterogeneous pooling and mirroring functionality. Users can then map critical applications to high-performance Tier-1 storage, while Tier-2 storage can be used for development and non-critical applications. Mirrored copies can also now be placed across different tiers.

Invista’s support matrix also continues to grow. The product is now interoperable with IBM’s DS4000 series arrays, HP’s PVLinks and Sun’s MPxIO path management software.

Finally, Invista 2.0 has been integrated with EMC RecoverPoint replication technology for heterogeneous virtual-to-physical and virtual-to-virtual replication. Emsley says RecoverPoint integration gives users the ability to employ virtualization technologies across multiple sites for disaster tolerance and enhanced availability.

Emsley admits that the market for storage virtualization is still in its infancy, despite the fact that vendors have been making noise around the benefits of block virtualization for the past several years. So why hasn’t the concept taken off? It’s a matter of hype versus reality, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT consulting firm.

“Part of the problem with storage virtualization has been the technical complexity and the fact that there’s not much common vocabulary,” says King. “Vendors have been going to market with their strengths, but sowing as much confusion as they do clarity on the way.”

However, King says that vendors can change that trend by selling virtualization as a means to an end, rather than as an end solution. “Companies are continuing to save enormous volumes of information, and if vendors can consult customers on how virtualization can improve their data processes it could result in more demand for the technology,” he says.

More flexible pricing options could also help speed broad market adoption. EMC has changed its pricing model for Invista from a large, up-front purchase to a more incremental plan. Pricing for Invista 1.0 was about $250,000 for 100TB of capacity, which King says priced out the medium-sized business market. According to EMC, Invista 2.0 is now priced from $100,000 for 10TB of managed capacity.

EMC reworked the pricing for Invista to align it with its company-wide approach of capacity-based pricing. EMC also cites customer feedback as a reason for the change. Customers prefer to start slowly with certain applications rather than throwing everything into a virtual pool all at once.

“Clearly the lower pricing on Invista could help EMC gain a toehold or strengthen its position in the virtualization market,” says King.