Big Data, Virtual Storage, Scale-Out NAS and More -- Top Takeways From EMC World

By Drew Robb

This week's annual EMC World presented a company that continues to evolve well beyond its storage hardware roots. Here are the top 10 takeaways from the show.

1. Big Data, Big Deal

Big Data got the lion's share of attention at this year's EMC World, even more than virtualization. Every keynote, every presenter, every release seemed to at the very least mention Big Data somewhere, if not focus on it.

2.Scale-Out NAS for Big Data

EMC's acquisition of Isilon is paying dividends in the scaling out of NAS to accommodate Big Data. Sujal Patel of EMC's Isilon unit, described the Isilon OneFS scale-out NAS operating system (also known as Mavericks) as the marriage of Big Data with the security of enterprise IT. Scaling up to 15 PB in a single volume, it is being used for home directories, archiving, virtualization and analytics -- all in a largely unstructured Big Data setting.

"Big Data and enterprise IT are converging, and scale-out NAS is destined to be the enabler of this convergence," said Patel.

3. Next Killer App

EMC CEO Joe Tucci always says something worthwhile in his keynote.This year it was about Big Data and analytics.

"Real-time predictive analytics will be the next killer app in order to gain business value from big data," said Tucci.

4. Hybrid Clouds

EMC seems to be gearing up for what it calls hybrid clouds -- a mix of private clouds and public clouds. This is a big change from last year, where it was all about EMC helping IT build private clouds. Clearly, the company has succumbed to the inevitability of cheap public cloud based services, and it has started to figure out how to capitalize. Whomever sells the cloud services will need huge amounts of storage to underpin it.

"Businesses will build their own internal private clouds and then will add capacity from public clouds to deal with peak loads of sudden spikes," said Tucci. "This will give you best of both worlds -- cost and efficiency."

5. Cloud OS

The EMC boss also let slip some upcoming news from VMware: It is building a new OS specifically for the cloud. The idea is to tailor the OS to make apps run in the cloud with more agility and reliability. The apps, too, will have to be designed to run optimally in the cloud.

6. ExtremeIO Delay

EMC continues to hype flash and its acquisition of ExtremeIO, but this is all moot, as no products have hit the market as yet. According to President and Chief Operating Officer, EMC Information Infrastructure Products, Pat Gelsinger, Extreme IO products will not be available until 2013. Precious few details of the fabled "Project X" were revealed.

"We thought Extreme IO was the best technology on the market in terms of the scale out architecture," said Gelsinger. "The use case for the all-flash array is very high performance."

7. FusionIO Swipe

When asked about the future direction of flash, Tucci chose a middle ground. He mentioned the many flavors -- SSD-based flash as a top-tier operating alongside SATA disk, PCI-e based flash sitting right beside the CPU, and even all-flash arrays. But he didn't believe any one form factor could be gambled upon. Hence, the company is moving forward on all fronts.

"It is foolish to say this is the way to do everything in storage, like Fusion IO has done," said Tucci. "There are other ways, and that particular approach is expensive. You have to use many ways of deploying flash in order to manage costs and efficiencies. A one size fits all approach misses the boat."

8. EMC the Service Service Provider

Gelsinger noted that EMC's fastest growing customer segment is service providers. The likes of Facebook, Verizon and others are taking over more market share and in turn need more storage. EMC seems to be doing a good job of cornering that market.

9. Virtual Storage Shift

The old proverb about Mohammed going to the mountain seems to apply to virtual storage. Instead of taking the storage to the virtual machine (VM), Gelsinger stated that in some cases it may make more sense to take the VM to the storage device. In other words, place apps in VMs that sit inside the storage device rather than having to take the data out of storage and send it across the network to the VM.

"All our storage arrays will run VMs within two years," said Gelsinger. "Some functions want to be close to the storage, so rather than pull data and perform functions, and then push it back in, you can use VMs within the storage -- but only where it makes sense."

10. Server Efficiencies

Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, also gave a keynote. His was the one gem related to server and VM automation. He cited Google currently being at a ratio of 1,000 physical servers per admin while EMC was one order of magnitude off that.

With the headlong rush toward the cloud and virtualization, monitoring becomes so much harder. The amount of data logging is impossible to keep track of. Maritz called this a real-time data analytic at scale problem.

"We need to get to the level of one admin per 10,000 VMs and that will take dramatically higher levels of automation," he said. "We need to arrive there fast to take advantage of virtualization and cloud apps fully."

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on May 25, 2012