Invista's not invisible; EMC unveils version 2.0

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Invista's not invisible; EMC unveils version 2.0

Dave Raffo, News Director

EMC Corp. is taking another run at block storage virtualization with Invista 2.0, an upgraded version of its switch-based product that stumbled out of the gate more than two years ago.

After months of limited release, EMC took the wraps off Invista 2.0 today by making it generally available. Invista works with intelligent switches from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. to dynamically migrate and allocate volumes, providing a SAN virtualization alternative to IBM's network-based SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and Hitachi Data System's (HDS) TagmaStore array-based virtualization systems. Other SAN virtualization products include software from DataCore Software Corp. and FalconStor Software Inc., and a switched-based system from Incipient Inc.

After months of hype, EMC launched the original

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Invista in 2005 but pegged it as a product for only the largest of enterprises running at least five storage arrays. Doc D'Errico, vice president of EMC's Infrastructure Software Group, said the new version should bring Invista into more shops, but it still remains largely a migration tool for enterprises.

The biggest change in Invista is that now it uses clustered controllers to remove a single point of failure. EMC split its control path clusters (CPC) into two nodes so it can still operate if one node fails. Invista 2.0 also supports twice as many virtual volumes and five times as many mobility sessions as Invista 1.0. EMC added support for its RecoverPoint replication device, but Invista does not perform replication by itself. Invista 2.0 also supports IBM DS4000 arrays to go with the support for higher end IBM and HDS arrays available in Invista 1.0. Pricing for Invista 2.0 begins at $100,000, and users must also purchase Brocade AP-7420B or Cisco MDS 9216, 9506, 9509 or 9513 switches.

"Now it's ready for production," D'Errico said. "This version will dramatically help customers access and manage information by nondisruptively migrating data."

Arun Taneja, an analyst with the Taneja Group, said the first version of Invista was not ready for prime time, but EMC now has a product it can bring into the enterprise.

"The previous Invista was a placeholder," Taneja said. "They had to do a lot to it to get it ready. Frankly, Invista 1.0 wasn't quite ready, and that's why they kept it under the radar. You can't go into the enterprise and say your control path has a single point of failure. They've fixed that and beefed up on other things like availability sessions, and speeds and feeds. Now EMC is squarely in the [block] storage virtualization business."

While EMC appeared to launch its original Invista prematurely, this time it waited until the upgrade was field tested and it had reference customers before its official announcement. EMC isn't saying how many customers it has for either version of Invista, but it has 15 reference customers it will use to help tell its story.

The first of those customers is Mike Rubesch, director of infrastruture at Purdue University's office of information technology. Rubesch said he is using Invista 2.0 to help migrate from Symmetrix DMX-2 to new DMX-3 arrays. Down the road, he intends to use Invista as a SAN-based volume manager. Rubesch said he considered HDS and IBM virtualization products, but he liked EMC's split-path architecture and "handling the logic in the switch fabric seemed technically better to us than handling it in the frame with Hitachi or a separate appliance like IBM."

Rubesch's office manages 220 TB of storage on EMC Symmetrix, Clariion, Celerra and Centera systems, and has 630 Brocade Fibre Channel switch ports. With only two full-time storage administrators, he said server administrators have often been pulled into provisioning storage. He's tested Invista for moving and adding storage, and has moved storage in production environments without a hitch.

"The difficult thing for us was to change the size of storage that's mapped to a server," Rubesch said. "We had to map a new volume to a server, move the data using the Uniux system and then point the Unix system at new data instead of old data. That was done by a Unix system administrator. Under Invista, we get out of that move and migration business. We point the system at Invista once, and Invista takes care of the new storage behind the scenes. We point it at a 1 TB volume, create a 2 TB volume and Invista takes care of that. We remove the 1 TB volume, point it at the 2 TB volume and sever administrators are none the wiser. All they know is they have 2 TB."

Another user, who works for an insurance company, was underwhelmed by Invista 2.0. The user, who asked that he and his company not be identified, said he put his test development system behind Invista after EMC gave it to his company to try. He said if it worked, he would have used it on his production system to migrate between arrays. But he described the setup as "a nightmare," and said he was put off by its lack of native replication and no support for other vendors besides IBM and HDS. "They gave it to us for free, and I wouldn't spend any of our money on it," he said.

As Taneja points out, EMC reaps hundreds of millions of dollars a year from sales of Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF) software and other replication products and isn't about to jeopardize those sales by letting Invista handle replication by itself. "Anything that suggests there's an alternative to SRDF or other EMC software to move data between DMXs or from DMX to Clariion or from DMX to an IBM DS4000, that's blasphemy, right?" he said.