EMC, Dell ship SATA arrays for SMBs

Prices start at less than $6,000

By Sonia R. Lelii

EMC and Dell recently introduced a low-end disk array that executives say contains high-end functionality such as RAID data protection and snapshots for backup, but is as easy to install as a printer or VCR. In addition, pricing by EMC's channel partners is expected to start at less than $6,000, with SAN configurations (including host bus adapters [HBAs]) starting at less than $10,000.

The disk array, which EMC calls the CLARiiON AX100 (and Dell calls the Dell/EMC AX100) is a 2U subsystem that can hold up to 12 Serial ATA (SATA) drives, with capacities ranging from 480GB to 3TB in a RAID-5 configuration. The AX100 can be used in direct-attached storage (DAS), NAS, or SAN environments.

Primarily targeted for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), the AX100 supports Windows, Linux, and NetWare environments. The basic package is set up for DAS connection, but users can add a SAN switch if they need to hook up more than four servers to the subsystem. The array comes in two models: the AX100SC, which has a single controller with RAID 5, and the AX100, which has dual, active-active controllers and mirrored cache. If customers want file-sharing capabilities, they can put an EMC NetWin NAS gateway in front of the AX100.

Integrated functionality includes a wizard-based management interface that enables users to easily set up the device, and snapshot capabilities that allow administrators to create point-in-time images for backup purposes. Other features include virtual volumes for capacity expansion, and automated I/O path management across host and network connections.

"My only knock on the product is that it does not have iSCSI capabilities," says Greg Schultz, a senior analyst at The Evaluator Group consulting firm. "But they are hinting that it will have it."

The announcement is another move by EMC and Dell to further cement their relationship—one that is increasingly focused on bringing economical storage to cost-conscious IT managers, particularly in the SMB market. Analysts agree that over the past three years the relationship between EMC and Dell has been symbiotic. Recently, the two companies extended their partnership through 2008.

With the AX100, the two vendors are leveraging each other's strengths: EMC is using Dell to break into the SMB space while Dell is benefiting from EMC's technology prowess. "Dell has been trying to get a 'SAN-in-a-box' for years," says John Webster, analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group. "They've finally gotten there. This is as close as anything comes to a plug-and-play SAN."

But the biggest twist to the AX100 announcement is the way EMC and Dell are positioning the use of SATA drives. EMC is marketing the AX100 subsystem not for nearline storage, like most SATA array vendors do, but for primary storage within the SMB market. In the past, ATA disk drives were used primarily in desktops and laptops because they were not designed to spin continuously, in contrast to Fibre Channel and SCSI drives. As a result, ATA drives had a shorter mean-time-between-failure (MTBF) rate compared to Fibre Channel and SCSI drives (e.g., 400,000 to 500,000 hours versus 1.2 million for SCSI drives).

Partly because of those reasons, users have abstained from using ATA drives for "mission-critical" applications since the drives were not considered to have the reliability to handle demanding (high I/O and high duty cycle) applications. However, with the recent transition from Parallel ATA to Serial ATA, more manufacturers have developed SATA-based subsystems for applications such as disk-based backup, being careful to position the subsystems as nearline storage—not primary storage. Now, EMC and Dell have upped the ante by positioning the SATA-based AX100 for primary storage.

The Data Mobility Group's Webster says that, like most storage vendors, EMC is trying to go after the fast-growth SMB storage market, and one way to get there is to use the more economical SATA drives. Using RAID 5 helps increase SATA drive reliability, but Webster questions whether the AX100 can maintain high performance if a disk breaks down and the RAID array is expending energy rebuilding data on the corrupted drive.

"It's a box that holds 160GB or 250GB drives," says Webster, "which could mean rebuilding a pretty big system. What happens to the performance of the box during the rebuilding process?"

But other analysts say that the AX100 is good enough for SMBs. "What EMC is saying is that the quality/price/performance of ATA has improved," says Charles King, research director of The Sageza Group. "[Serial ATA] is ready for prime time in a way that older ATA drives may not have been."

King agrees that SATA drives may not offer the same high performance that Fibre Channel drives deliver (although performance depends on factors like block size and application). But EMC has taken some functions from its CLARiiON architecture that can mitigate the liabilities inherent in SATA drives, he says. "What you end up with is a modestly priced storage solution with good performance."

Mike Wytenus, senior director of CLARiiON marketing at EMC, says the AX100 uses CLARiiON's FLARE operating system, which has features to maintain data integrity. Besides using RAID 5 for data protection, the AX100 operating system has an intelligent cache manager to provide high availability for the most frequently used data. It also uses "sniffer" technology that proactively scrubs disk drives and cache memory for any errors. Once an error is detected, it reassigns the data to other cache memory locators or disk drives.

EMC taps ADIC for tape libraries

By Sonia R. Lelii
The company that once prophesized that tape was a dying technology has now signed an agreement with Advance Digital Information Corp. to resell ADIC's Scalar tape libraries.

In recent months, analysts have noted that EMC, a long-time proponent of disk, needed to incorporate tape technology within its portfolio to have a complete information life-cycle management (ILM) solution for tiered storage.

Now, EMC will offer its customers ADIC's automated tape libraries, which include the Scalar 24, Scalar 100, Scalar i2000, and Scalar 10K model with LTO tape drive technology. In turn, ADIC will resell EMC's CLARiiON CX networked storage systems as part of its Pathlight VX virtual tape solution for nearline storage and offline vaulting.

Sean Kinney, senior marketing manager at EMC, says EMC chose ADIC over the other tape library vendors, including StorageTek, because the company has a like-minded engineering culture and "best-of-breed" tape technology. Moreover, ADIC offered a strategic mid-market opportunity for EMC. ADIC tends to focus on Fortune 3000 companies, and about 90% of its revenues are generated through partner and sales-assist models.

Products from both EMC and ADIC will be available this month.

As part of the agreement, EMC will focus on the sales contracts when reselling the tape libraries while ADIC will offer sales and support. ADIC will resell the CLARiiON product, with ATA drives, as part of the back-end solution to its Pathlight VX product line. Scalar library family features include integrated SAN support, intelligent monitoring and alerting functions, capacity-on-demand, and options for redundant robotics and controllers for high availability. Pathlight VX combines disk and tape in a single system to back up and restore data. Now the disk part of that technology will be EMC's CLARiiON arrays.

This article was originally published on July 01, 2004