EMC enhances Centera

By Sonia R. Lelii

EMC recently added more protocol support to its Centera content-addressed storage (CAS) system so that customers can archive data generated from applications that have not been integrated with Centera.

This move, targeted at customers who want an easier way to access the archiving tool, means that Centera's Universal Access software now includes support for the file-based HTTP and FTP protocols along with CIFS and NFS. Customers who do not have the means to do application integration with Centera use this software, previously called the Centera Application Gateway (CAG), as a conduit between their file-based applications and the archiving device.

EMC executives say some of the 10% of the Centera customer base use the software because they have legacy, homegrown applications that can't be integrated with Centera. Another customer segment that EMC is targeting with this announcement is Picture Archiving Communications (PAC) system developers, which design applications for the medical community. Those vendors have a long integration window because they have to endure a lengthy government approval process, and one way to bypass application integration is to use the Universal Access software.

Application integration has been one of the downsides to an otherwise successful product for EMC. Applications have to be written to Centera's APIs, which is a costly endeavor for users or third-party software developers. Peter Gerr, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, says that has been one of the "gotchas" of Centera. "It requires integration, and it takes a lot of developer resources," he says. "So there has been a price to pay, but that price has just gotten cheaper."

But there is a functionality tradeoff for customers who choose to use the Universal Access software to access Centera. According to Bill McConnell, product manager for EMC's Centera Universal Access software, those that go for the full-blown integration approach can take advantage of key features such as "location-independent" files, meaning the application doesn't have to manage the location of files. Another example of a benefit that comes with application integration is "single-instance storage," which is when multiple end-users store the same document under different file names. With single-instance storage, the document is stored one buy managed separately for each user.

Nonetheless, those that use Universal Access software still get benefits such as Centera's policy-retention feature, content authenticity, and automatic self-healing capability for files that have been regenerated after a corruption problem.

EMC also has integrated the Centera Universal Access V2.1 software into a node in the Centera cabinet, which means that users no longer have to purchase the external gateway to link application servers and Centera. "It's one less device that users have to contend with," says Gerr.

EMC will continue to support customers that use the external CAG, which is technology that EMC acquired when it purchased assets from Storigen last year.

Ultimately, EMC hopes that by adding more protocol support and simplifying the hardware structure it will make Centera a more commonly used repository for fixed content rather than just a point solution for applications such as e-mail or digital images. For example, the extended protocol support should make Centera a viable solution for archiving data in a number of areas, including data generated through enterprise content management (ECM) applications in government organizations, voice archiving for governments and local police organizations, etc.

According to Eric Jan-Schmidt, EMC's director of marketing for Centera, more than 130 applications have been integrated with Centera through EMC's software developer program. And more than 400 partners have signed up with the program and are in the process of integrating applications to Centera's APIs.

In addition, EMC announced that Centera is now able to archive data from mainframe applications that are not integrated to Centera Universal Access via Bus-Tech's Mainframe Appliance for Storage (MAS) for Centera product, which provides access to Centera via ESCON or FICON connections.

This article was originally published on August 01, 2004