Storage disc arrays updated by EMC

Now that last year's acquisition tear appears to be settling down, EMC disk arrays across the board are getting some attention in the form of hardware and software improvements.

EMC has announced a smorgasbord of hardware refreshes for its data storage platforms, which include performance updates to the Symmetrix high-end disc array , active-active controllers and new replication support for the Clariion midrange disc array, a new model and setup wizard for the Celerra network attached storage (NAS) product, a scaled down model of the Rainfinity file virtualisation box and a complete hardware overhaul of the Centera content-addressed storage (CAS) archive.

"You're starting to see EMC emerge out of its acquisition phase from last year, and they're now making this coordinated technology refresh across a large number of separate product lines," said Steve Norall, analyst with the Taneja Group. "This is a good sign for EMC users."

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He added that it is especially encouraging to see signs of integration in this update, citing new support for Centera with Rainfinity and new integration between Symmetrix and products from security subsidiary RSA Inc.

Symmetrix DMX-4

"First, you make it work, then you make it faster." That's how EMC's director of technology analysis Ken Steinhardt described the updates to the Symmetrix microcode that make up the new DMX-4. The new DMX doesn't have many new functions over the old version, but EMC said operations, such as copy on first write, cache management, target restore operations, performance times for full clone creation and TimeFinder sync performance have all been brushed up thanks to code improvements in Symmetrix microcode and its Engenuity management software.

EMC is claiming 30% performance improvements in RAID 5 and RAID 6 provisioning, and up to 33% better SRDF/S replication response time. Another update means that users can double the maximum synchronous replication distance from 100km to 200 km, but users must pick between the distance or the performance boost. Also, the number of snapshots per volume has been increased from 16 snapshots to 128 snapshots.

As with the DMX-3 line, a "baby" model 950 will be available for the DMX-4, and this will support FICON. Symmetrix will also now support 500 GB and 750 GB SATA drives, 4 Gbps Fibre Channel connections have been added to both the front and back end, and the back-end loop has been revised to have a point-to-point connection between the controller and each disc for easier maintenance. Finally, the audit logging added in the last Symmetrix refresh can now be fed into RSA's enVision audit log management software.

EMC was mum when it came to exactly what's been improved about the Symm code and refused to give actual numbers when it came to its claims about percentage performance improvements. "The core of these improvements gets into our secret sauce, and to even describe them conceptually would be to give away critical proprietary information," Steinhardt said.

While users say performance improvements are always welcome, there are other long-standing items on the wish list, including physical weight, power and cooling, and encryption that haven't been added yet, according to Shane McLaughlin, a storage administrator for a large financial institution who asked that his company not be named because of policies prohibiting him from representing it in the press.

McLaughlin said his company had to completely replace a wood-core floor in its data center with a cement-core floor to support the Symmetrix, and that he'd like to see EMC take steps to reduce the weight of the system, as well as the space it takes up. "The new Symmetrix footprint is bigger than a floor tile," he said. "That makes space management more complicated in the data center."

With the addition of higher capacity SATA drives, EMC is touting the "greenness" of the DMX-4, but McLaughlin said he'd like to see more done to improve the power consumption of the Symm. "The three-bay DMX we have installed requires six power feeds, two per rack, compared to only two on our 8830 [and needs] two additional feeds for every additional drive bay." However, the newer DMX model at least allows him to add those feeds when the drive bays are added. The older version required full power even with a half-populated rack.

Clariion: Active-active controllers a long-anticipated feature

Prior to last year's Clariion refreshes, users were already talking about the addition of more processing power and active-active controllers, but it's taken until now to see it happen.

"Active-active arrays are the biggest item on my EMC wish list," McLaughlin said. "An active-active array will be easier to manage -- no more balancing LUNs across server paths and having only two logical paths per server versus four, and I suspect that there would be a performance increase since there will be two active buses to the physical drive."

EMC has also added RAID 6 support to Clariion, support for 750 GB SATA II drives, and native iSCSI support for its MirrorView and SanCopy replication software -- previous versions required FCIP.

Celerra: Following in Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) footsteps with setup wizard; scaling down to face Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp)

EMC has also given its NAS line a boost with the addition of a new scaled-down model, the NS20, which has a maximum capacity of 20 terabytes (TB) usable, compared with 32 TB maximum capacity for the next biggest model, the NS40. The NS20 and NS40 will also now support full multiprotocol access, including iSCSI, Fibre Channel and NAS in a single chassis -- an update that puts it in a position to compete better with NetApp, particularly in the midmarket, according to Norall, who compared the NS20 in scale to the FAS270.

New users for the Celerra line will also be able to set up their new box a little more easily, the company claims, thanks to the addition of a new software setup wizard to replace the old method of command-line scripting for set up.

Rainfinity: New SMB offering

Also on the NAS front, EMC announced it is adding a new small and midsized business (SMB) model of its Rainfinity file virtualisation product. The scaled down version will have file migration and archiving capabilities only, which represent just one of seven possible software modules contained in the full product, though at just over $42,000 it's priced at about half of the full version. Also new for Rainfinity is support for migration to the Centera archive, but the Fibre Channel support in the new Celerra is not supported.

Centera: Complete hardware refresh

EMC has totally overhauled its Centera CAS archiving hardware, adding new, more compact 1U storage nodes that allow more capacity in the same chassis, and it follows better power efficiency. A further power boost will come from support for 750 GB discs. Each node will now hold 3 TB, as opposed to 2 TB in the previous version. Each rack can now hold 96 TB per rack, as opposed to 64 TB in the previous model. Thus it will require 41 watts per terabyte as opposed to 125W per TB, EMC claims. Also, despite rumors in the industry that the next generation of Centera would require a disruptive upgrade, the new Centera nodes will be backward compatible with previous nodes and management software. Newer 1 TB SATA drives are available, which presumably would boost the power equation even more, but EMC declined comment as to when and if it will add support for those drives.

Stay tuned for in-depth follow-ups on these announcements later this week.

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