EMC: Data everywhere – ViPR software-defined storage the answer

At EMC World the company set out its vision of a future of massive amounts of distributed data and revealed ViPR – software-defined storage with which it aims to tame it

EMC World 2013 in Las Vegas has been pretty short on concrete product announcements – the company got all its flash news out of the way two months ago – and long on futurology. 

OK, maybe that’s slightly unfair. EMC’s crystal ball gazing has been deployed around the unveiling of its ViPR software-defined storage platform, which is to become available later this year. Much of the event has been based around the strategic justification for that product.

ViPR appears as a pioneer in a new product category. It is hard to think of anything from any of EMC’s rivals that comes close in terms of the overarching capabilities it claims, incorporating storage virtualisation, private cloud operations, big data functionality and out-of-the-box hyperscale datacentre capabilities.

You can read more about it in detail here, but in short ViPR promises the ability to build software-defined storage infrastructures from any storage, including commodity hardware, and while allowing existing storage arrays to use their in-built intelligence. At the same time, it enables big data analytics and private cloud services.

Application and data explosion

In a series of presentations at the circa 15,000-attendee event in Las Vegas, EMC set out the reasoning behind the launch. In short, EMC's vision of the future is one with a vastly expanded set of applications and sources of data, where the consumerisation of IT meets the industrial internet of things. All of which will result in an IT landscape comprising myriad storage systems which can be profitably analysed from a logical overlay – ie ViPR– but not physically integrated.

"We're in an era where applications are going to be renewed . . . a golden age of applications that will allow tremendous things to be done," said Paul Maritz, chief executive of EMC’s new venture, Pivotal.

"We have to learn from the consumer internet giants – the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon – and do IT in a different way. We have the collective opportunity to take that experience and reapply it to make it available to a broader set of people," he added.

What Maritz and other EMC executives are getting at here is a future where vast amounts of data from myriad different sources is collected, analysed and used to do business. It is a future based on the belief that the methods of the consumer internet and the needs of industry will intersect. 

Looking at the experience of the Facebooks of the world that have made business value from the real-time, or near real-time, analysis of huge amounts of customer data, they see this trend extending to business more widely.

More on software-defined storage

Creating a virtual storage framework

EMC executives point to the creation of Pivotal and the 10% $110m stake taken by industrial giant GE. 

“Pivotal will focus on the next generation of datacentre applications,” said Maritz, a future internet of things where, for example, telemetry from a single transatlantic flight could produce as much as 30TB of data that could be profitably retained and analysed, and aero engine manufacturers would not sell engines, but “10,000 hours of power” to airlines. 

“The industrial internet will emulate the consumer internet,” he said, "and every inanimate object will have an IP address.”

In this world, storage will evolve from its current existence as an island to capacity everywhere on many classes of device and for which organisations want an overarching platform and set of procedures.

This is where ViPR fits in. It is EMC’s attempt to provide a virtual storage framework for what IDC calls “the third platform”. In this schema, the first platform is the era of the mainframe, with its direct-attached storage. The second is the world of the datacentre, with its shared enterprise storage. 

The latter still very much exists, and forms a major chunk of EMC’s business with predicted growth to 2016 of 70%, but it is towards the next generation, the third platform – with billions of users and millions of apps and distributed storage – that ViPR is aimed, where applications and data that sit at the convergence of consumer IT techniques and business IT imperatives will see growth of 700% to 2016, it believes.

Special report on EMC

This special eight-page report from Computer Weekly analyses the challenges facing EMC, its financial performance, the services it offers, its place in the IT market and its future strategy.

For this future, EMC is betting on enterprises eschewing traditional enterprise storage. 

On the one hand building IT systems much more like service providers do today; large scale, on multiple underlying storage platforms that can be provisioned and managed private-cloud style and on which data can be analysed in place. On the other hand data will be distributed, too heavy to move, and whatever businesses want to do with it they will have to do in situ.

ViPR aims to be the operating system, the virtual storage layer, that overlays this diverse future landscape. Is it the pioneer of a new product category for a new world of data? That remains to be seen. ViPR is set for release in the second half of 2013.

Read more on Virtualisation and storage