EMC loads up midrange arrays

By Kevin Komiega

EMC last month began shipping the Clariion CX4 Series of midrange disk arrays, which bring together a myriad of features and functions—including flash-based solid-state disk (SSD) drives, disk spin-down technology and dual-protocol SAN connectivity—that have previously been unavailable to midrange customers in a single array.

The CX4 family is available in four models (see table) ranging in capacity from 120TB to 951TB and touts up to twice the performance, memory, capacity, and LUN connectivity of previous Clariion models.

The new speeds and capacity points have been made possible in part through a new 64-bit version of the Clariion FLARE operating system, which supports multi-core Intel processors to improve performance and 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 virtual tape systems, is designed for applications that have regular spans of time with little or no activity. The CX4 family also uses an adaptive cooling design and support for new low-power 1TB SATA 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 other midrange arrays: It represents the first time all of these features are being offered in 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 research and consulting firm.

Peters also says EMC should be given credit for enabling midrange customers to have 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 extra for the added performance.

Peters says users 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.

“Price parity between SSDs and HDDs will not 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 believes there is a midrange market for SSD technology. “It’s not an enterprise versus midrange question,” says Ruya Atac-Barrett, EMC’s director of Clariion product marketing. “Mid-tier companies recognize the business impact that flash drives can give them: 30× the processing performance and a 10× improvement in response times versus traditional disk. Solid-state disks provide a quantum leap in performance.”

Speeds and feeds

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

The CX4’s UltraFlex architecture includes some software tweaks that allow the 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 that 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 sold by Dell under the Dell/EMC brand and Fujitsu Siemens Computers under the FibreCat brand.

Flash drive and virtual provisioning capabilities will be available next month.

This article was originally published on September 01, 2008