EMC unveils Clariion arrays with spin-down drives, SSDs

By Kevin Komiega

-- EMC today announced the availability of the Clariion CX4 Series, a new line of midrange storage systems that brings together a myriad of features and functions -- including support for flash-based solid-state disks (SSDs), disk spin-down technology, and dual-protocol SAN connectivity -- that have previously been unavailable to midrange customers in a single array.

The CX4 family, which is available in four models ranging in capacity from 120TB to 951TB, touts up to twice the performance, memory, capacity, and LUN connectivity of previous Clariion models and can support multiple application tiers per array.

The new speeds and capacity points of the Clariion platform have been made possible through a new 64-bit version of the Clariion FLARE operating system, which utilizes multi-core Intel processors that improve performance and double system scalability.

The CX4 features dual-protocol support for Fibre Channel and iSCSI SAN connections with "online expansion," which will allow users to non-disruptively incorporate future networking technologies such as 8Gbps Fibre Channel, 10Gbps iSCSI, and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), via I/O connectivity modules as they become available.

For the power-conscious, the built-in disk spin-down capabilities of the CX4 automatically place inactive drives in sleep mode and activate drives on-demand to save energy. This policy-based feature, which EMC first offered in its EMC Disk Library virtual tape systems, is designed for applications that have regular spans of time with little or no activity. The CX4 family also utilizes an adaptive cooling design and support for new low-power 1TB SATA disk drives, which use 32% less energy per terabyte than traditional SATA drives.

EMC also added thin provisioning to the mix in the form of Clariion Virtual Provisioning, allowing administrators to efficiently provision capacity for applications.

The aforementioned software features, connectivity options, and power-saving technologies are by no means new. Throw a rock in the storage industry and you will hit a vendor offering one or more of the same capabilities somewhere in their product portfolio. However, two things separate the CX4 from the rest of the midrange arrays on the market. It represents the first time all of these features are being offered on one midrange box, and two of the four new Clariion models support flash-based SSDs.

"With the exception of flash drives, you can find other vendors doing all of the things EMC is doing in the CX4 such as disk spin-down, iSCSI, replication, etc., but the whole of this package is greater than the sum of its parts," says Mark Peters, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group.

Peters also says EMC should be given credit for giving midrange customers access to these storage technologies in a single system. "If anyone else brought out this product we would be shouting it from the rooftops. EMC has collected all of the things they could and put them all in one array, but we expect that from EMC. What is new and different, however, is that EMC is bringing flash memory down into the midrange."

EMC first incorporated SSDs in its high-end Symmetrix DMX systems earlier this year. The jury is still out on whether enterprise customers are adopting the technology and there is some question about whether midrange customers will pay for extra for performance.

"There is a lot of talk these days about scale-out products -- big, dumb boxes designed to store all of these files that are flying around. The CX4 is at the other end of the spectrum and I think there's a market for it," says ESG's Peters.

Peters says customers are starting to talk about the cost of storage in different terms. "There is no point in quoting prices per gigabyte anymore. When you look at price per IOPS, SSDs look very good," he says.

"The price of SSDs will still not be on par with spinning disk because that is not going to happen any time soon, but EMC is big enough to force others to take notice and that could drive the economics to where the price [for SSDs] is somewhere close to sensible," Peters adds.

EMC also believes there is a midrange market for SSD technology. "I don't think it's an enterprise versus midrange question," says Ruya Atac-Barrett, EMC's director of Clariion product marketing. "We see mid-tier customers who inherently recognize the business impact that flash drives can give them with respect to 30x the processing performance and 10x the response times of traditional disk. Solid-state disks provide a quantum leap in performance any place where there is a need for faster processing."

Speeds and feeds
The Clariion CX4 Series comprises four models, the smallest of which, the CX4-120, is priced from $31,185 and includes five 146GB disk drives. All of the CX-4 arrays run all of EMC's Clariion management and replication software, including EMC Navisphere Management Suite, MirrorView, SnapView, SAN Copy, and other software.

Here is the rundown:
--The Clariion CX4-120 features up to 120 disk drives for a total capacity of 120TB, 6GB of system memory, and up to 12 Fibre Channel and/or eight iSCSI ports;
--The CX4-240 features up to 240 drives for a total capacity of 231TB, 8GB of system memory, and up to 12 Fibre Channel and/or 12 iSCSI ports;
--The CX4-480 features up to 480 drives, including support for SSDs, for a total capacity of 471TB, 16GB of system memory, and up to 16 Fibre Channel and/or 12 iSCSI ports; and
--The CX4-960 features up to 960 disk drives, including SSDs, for a total capacity of 951TB, 32GB of system memory, and up to 24 Fibre Channel and/or 16 iSCSI ports.

The CX4's UltraFlex architecture includes some software tweaks that allow CX4 arrays to work better in VMware environments. For example, the arrays support the dynamic addition of I/O ports, along with storage capacity and performance, to a virtual infrastructure as well as integration with VMware Site Recovery Manager for VMware Disaster Recovery. In addition, the Clariion CX4 Series features new integrated continuous remote and local replication (CLR) features for EMC RecoverPoint/SE software.

The CX4 architecture is also integrated with EMC PowerPath management software with encryption and key management technology from RSA, which can encrypt and decrypt data at the host as it is sent to and from the array.

The Clariion CX4 Series is available from EMC, its Velocity Program Partners, and Velocity Authorized Services Network (ASN) Partners. It is also being offered by Dell under the Dell/EMC brand and Fujitsu Siemens Computers under the FibreCat brand.

Flash drive and virtual provisioning capabilities will be available in October 2008. Drive spin-down is available for EMC Disk Library today.

Related articles:

EMC adds flash drives to Symmetrix DMX systems
EMC adds de-duplication to disk libraries
EMC ships entry-level Clariion for VMware

This article was originally published on August 05, 2008