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EMC upgrades Symmetrix V-Max arrays, thin provisioning

Beth Pariseau
EMC Corp. today launched a series of upgrades for its Symmetrix V-Max enterprise

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storage arrays, including greater thin provisioning capabilities, support for 8 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) and FICON, and new bulk data storage configurations.

Thin provisioning updates

EMC made upgrades to its Virtual Provisioning software for Symmetrix arrays as well as the Symmetrix replication software. EMC added Zero Page Reclaim, which collects "white spaces" left in thin provisioned volumes for repurposing as a contiguous block of storage elsewhere in the disk array.

Bob Waumbach, EMC's senior director of enterprise storage, said this could also help customers upgrade their arrays more efficiently. "It could drive customers to accelerate technology refreshes, focused on taking capacity back," he said. "If you budget for a one-to-one replacement of 200 terabytes, for example, you might recover 50 terabytes for future growth."

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The feature sounds similar to Symantec Corp.'s Thin Reclamation API. Symantec reps said all major data storage vendors are supporting its API, and IBM and 3PAR Inc. have released integrated products. But Waumbach said EMC developed its Zero Page Reclaim on its own.

V-Max previously supported wide striping as part of Virtual Provisioning, but now new capacity added to the data storage pool can trigger the disk array to automatically restripe data across all drives.

Some analysts see these features as playing catch-up with competitor 3PAR, which has offered thin provisioning and similar additional software features like automated wide-striping on its arrays for years. "3PAR is nipping at the heels of the tier one guys," said Wikibon founder and analyst David Vellante. "EMC's got to be brain dead not to know that."

However, Vellante added, "it's all good stuff, and it's not easy to add."

8 Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity

V-Max now natively supports 8 Gbps Fibre Channel, 8 Gbps FICON and 8 Gbps connectivity for its SRDF replication application. Waumbach said V-Max also supports an IBM z/OS mainframe protocol called High Performance FICON for System z ( zHPF). The protocol boosts performance by reducing the "handshakes" that take place between a mainframe and storage array.

"It may seem to be the most boring part of this announcement, but it's a key piece," said StorageIO Group founder and analyst Greg Schulz on what he called the "8-gig theme" of this announcement. "There's a lot of talk about FCoE [Fibre Channel over Ethernet] and 10 Gigabit Ethernet [10 GbE], but the FICON world won't go bleeding edge unless there's a dual-redundant blood bank next door. This announcement is addressing that risk-averse audience, who may look at FCoE but only over the next few years."

Schulz disagreed with the assessment of "3PAR-catchup" from some of his fellow analysts. "Where's 3PAR's 8-gig support?" he asked. "They have great tools and insight into overbooking with thin provisioning, and they're all about getting customers comfortable with it. But they need to continue to innovate – the sleeping giant is now awake."

Replication updates

EMC's SRDF remote replication, TimeFinder local replication and TimeClone snapshot software for Symmetrix now support thick-to-thin and thin-to-thick volume replication, including for technology refreshes where "thick" volumes on an older Symmetrix DMX disk array are transferred in thin form to a new box. Zero space reclamation can also be applied to clones.

Also new for TimeFinder is support for software compression and Gigabit Ethernet links, which could offer some users a less costly alternative to more saturated FCIP links.

New configurations

EMC is adding new configurations that let customers buy large numbers of disks without requiring as much horsepower on the front end for certain applications. Previously, customers who wanted to scale the V-Max up to its maximum 2,400 drive capacity needed to purchase eight V-Max engines to scale performance proportionate with capacity. The new configurations come in two sizes: a two-engine system with 1,200 disk drives and a four-engine system with up to 2,400 disk drives.

Symmetrix is generally associated with high performance, high bandwidth and low latency for tier one applications, but Waumbach said not every customer is looking for those features in all cases. "For some, the important thing is complete nondisruptive operations and availability," he said. "Others might want to add larger drives to the Symmetrix to support tiered storage and have just one system to manage."

Innovation vs. market conservatism

Some Symmetrix customers have already expressed wariness about the potential operational and performance impact of the Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) EMC rolled out for its disk arrays last week. Now, EMC is layering on even more background operations to the disk array.

Meanwhile, EMC has never released public performance benchmarks for its disk arrays and doesn't plan to start now, Waumbach said. Prospective customers can be provided with sizing tools to get a sense of the performance and cost of a V-Max disk array, but that information isn't made public, either.

"It's great EMC is in a place where they have an enterprise disk array that they can reengineer and introduce new functionality in, but along with it comes a new responsibility to provide evidence and demonstrate how the features work within an enterprise context," said Jeff Boles, a senior analyst and director, validation services at Taneja Group. "That's a new position for EMC to be in because they've never been there with Symmetrix before – it's always been a trusted platform."

Analytico Inc. analyst Tom Trainer said EMC's upgrades to V-Max and FAST might worry its Symmetrix DMX customers who have chosen not to adopt the new V-Max architecture. "These updates keep distancing V-Max from DMX, and customers sticking with DMX are probably saying 'What gives?'" Trainer said. "EMC could shine a little more light on the roadmap so they know how long the DMX will be there."