EMC VMAX Review

EMC VMAX 10K, high-end storage systems stayin alive


PART I

EMC has announced an upgrade, refresh or new version of their previously announced Virtual matrix (VMAX) 10,000 (10K), part of the VMAX family of enterprise class storage systems formerly known as DMX (Direct Matrix) and Symmetrix. I will get back to more coverage on the VMAX 10K and other EMC enhancements in a few moments in part two and three of this series.

Have you heard the industry myth about the demise or outright death of traditional storage systems' This has been particularly the case for high-end enterprise class systems, which by the way which were first, declared dead back in the mid-1990s then at the hands of emerging mid-range storage systems.

Enterprise class storage systems include EMC VMAX, Fujitsu Eternus DX8700, HDS, HP XP P9000 based on the HDS high-end product (OEM from HDS parent Hitachi Ltd.). Note that some HPers or their fans might argue that the P10000 (formerly known as 3PAR) declared as tier 1.5 should also be on the list; I will leave that up to you to decide.

Let us not forget the IBM DS8000 series (whose predecessors was known as the ESS and VSS before that); although some IBMers will tell you that XIV should also be in this list. High-end enterprise class storage systems such as those mentioned above are not alone in being declared dead at the hands of new all solid-state devices (SSD) and their startup vendors, or mixed and hybrid-based solutions.

Some are even declaring dead due to new SSD appliances or systems, and by storage hypervisor or virtual storage array (VSA) the traditional mid-range storage systems that were supposed to have killed off the enterprise systems a decade ago (hmm, DejaVu').

The mid-range storage systems include among others block (SAN and DAS) and file (NAS) systems from Data Direct Networks (DDN), Dell Complement, EqualLogic and MD series (Netapp Engenio based), EMC VNX and Isilon, Fujitsu Eternus, and HDS HUS mid-range formerly known as AMS. Let us not forget about HP 3PAR or P2000 (DotHill based) or P6000 (EVA which is probably being put out to rest). Then there are the various IBM products (their own and what they OEM from others), NEC, NetApp (FAS and Engenio), Oracle and Starboard (formerly known as Reldata). Note that there are many startups that could be in the above list as well if they were not considering the above to be considered dead, thus causing themselves to also be extinct as well, how ironic ;).

What are some industry trends that I am seeing'

  • Some vendors and products might be nearing the ends of their useful lives
  • Some vendors, their products and portfolios continue to evolve and expand
  • Some vendors and their products are moving into new or adjacent markets
  • Some vendors are refining where and what to sell when and to who
  • Some vendors are moving up market, some down market
  • Some vendors are moving into new markets, others are moving out of markets
  • Some vendors are declaring others dead to create a new market for their products
  • One size or approach or technology does not fit all needs, avoid treating all the same
  • Leverage multiple tools and technology in creative ways
  • Maximize return on innovation (the new ROI) by using various tools, technologies in ways to boost productivity, effectiveness while removing complexity and cost
  • Realization that cutting cost can result in reduced resiliency, thus look for and remove complexity with benefit of removing costs without compromise
  • Storage arrays are moving into new roles, including as back-end storage for cloud, object and other software stacks running on commodity servers to replace JBOD (DejaVu anyone').

Keep in mind that there is a difference between industry adoption (what is talked about) and customer deployment (what are actually bought and used). Likewise there is technology based on GQ (looks and image) and G2 (functionality, experience).

There is also an industry myth that SSD cannot or has not been successful in traditional storage systems which in some cases has been true with some products or vendors. Otoh, some vendors such as EMC, NetApp and Oracle (among others) are having good success with SSD in their storage systems. Some SSD startup vendors have been more successful on both the G2 and GQ front, while some focus on the GQ or image may not be as successful (or at least yet) in the industry adoption vs. customer deployment game.

For the above mentioned storage systems vendors and products (among others), or at least for most of them there is still have plenty of life in them, granted their role and usage is changing including in some cases being found as back-end storage systems behind servers running virtualization, cloud, object storage and other storage software stacks. Likewise, some of the new and emerging storage systems (hardware, software, valueware, services) and vendors have bright futures while others may end up on the where are they now list.

Are high-end enterprise class or other storage arrays and systems dead at the hands of new startups, virtual storage appliances (VSA), storage hypervisors, storage virtualization, virtual storage and SSD'

Are large storage arrays dead at the hands of SSD'
Have SSDs been unsuccessful with storage arrays (with poll)'

So what about it, are enterprise or large storage arrays and systems dead'

Perhaps in some tabloids or industry myths (or that some wish for) or in some customer environments, as well as for some vendors or their products that can be the case.

However, IMHO for many other environments (and vendors) the answer is no, granted some will continue to evolve from legacy high-end enterprise class storage systems to mid-range or to appliance or VSA or something else.

There is still life many of the storage systems architectures, platforms and products that have been declared dead for over a decade.

 

PART II

Thus on January 14 2013 it is time for a new EMC Virtual Matrix (VMAX) model 10,000 (10K) storage system. EMC has been promoting their January 14 live virtual event for a while now. January significance is that is when (along with May or June) is when many new systems, solutions or upgrades are made on a staggered basis.

Historically speaking, January and February, along with May and June is when you have seen many of the larger announcements from EMC being made. Case in point, back in February of 2012 VFCache was released, then May (2012) in Las Vegas at EMCworld there were 42 announcements made and others later in the year.

Click here to see images of the car stuffing or click here to watch a video.

Let’s not forget back in February of 2012 VFCache was released, and go back to January 2011 there was the record-setting event in New York City complete with 26 people being compressed, deduped, singled instanced, optimized, stacked and tiered into a mini cooper (Coop) automobile (read and view more here).

Now back to the VMAX 10K enhancements

As an example of a company, product family and specific storage system model, still being alive is the VMAX 10K. Although this announcement by EMC is VMAX 10K centric, there is also a new version of the Enginuity software (firmware, storage operating system, valueware) that runs across all VMAX based systems including VMAX 20K and VMAX 40K. Read here, here and here and here to learn more about VMAX and Enginuity systems in general.

Some main themes of this announcement include Tier 1 reliability, availability and serviceability (RAS) storage systems functionality at tier 2 pricing for traditional, virtual and cloud data centers.

Some other themes of this announcement by EMC:

  • Flexible, scalable and resilient with performance to meet dynamic needs
  • Support private, public and hybrid cloud along with federated storage models
  • Simplified decision-making, acquisition, installation and ongoing management
  • Enable traditional, virtual and cloud workloads
  • Complement its siblings VMAX 40K, 20K and SP (Service Provider) models

Note that the VMAX SP is a model configured and optimized for easy self-service and private cloud, storage as a service (SaaS), IT as a Service (ITaaS) and public cloud service providers needing multi-tenant capabilities with service catalogs and associated tools.

So what is new with the VMAX 10K'

It is twice as fast (per EMC performance results) as earlier VMAX 10K by leveraging faster 2.8GHz Intel westmere vs. earlier 2.5GHz westmere processors. In addition to faster cores, there are more, from 4 to 6 on directors, from 8 to 12 on VMAX 10K engines. The PCIe (Gen 2) IO busses remain unchanged as does the RapidIO interconnect.  RapidIO  used for connecting nodes and engines,  while PCIe is used for adapter and device connectivity. Memory stays the same at up to 128GB of global DRAM cache, along with dual virtual matrix interfaces (how the nodes are connected). Note that there is no increase in the amount of DRAM based cache memory in this new VMAX 10K model.

This should prompt the question of for traditional cache centric or dependent for performance storage systems such as VMAX, how much are they now CPU and their associated L1 / L2 cache dependent or effective' Also how much has the Enginuity code under the covers been enhanced to leverage the multiple cores and threads thus shifting from being cache memory dependent processor hungry.

Also new with the updated VMAX 10K include:

  • Support for dense 2.5 inch drives, along with mixed 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch form factor devices with a maximum of 1,560 HDDs. This means support for 2.5 inch 1TB 7,200 RPM SAS HDDs, along with fast SAS HDDs, SLC/MLC and eMLC solid state devices (SSD) also known as electronic flash devices (EFD). Note that with higher density storage configurations, good disk enclosures become more important to counter or prevent the effects of drive vibration, something that leading vendors are paying attention to and so should customers.
  • EMC is also with the VMAX 10K adding support for certain 3rd party racks or cabinets to be used for mounting the product. This means being able to mount the VMAX main system and DAE components into selected cabinets or racks to meet specific customer, colo or other environment needs for increased flexibility.
  • For security, VMAX 10K also supports Data at Rest Encryption or (D@RE) which is implemented within the VMAX platform. All data encrypted on every drive, every drive type (drive independent) within the VMAX platform to avoid performance impacts. AES 256 fixed block encryption with FIPS 140-2 validation (#1610) using embedded or external key management including RSA Key Manager. Note that since the storage system based encryption is done within the VMAX platform or controller, not only is the encrypt / decrypt off-loaded from servers, it also means that any device from SSD to HDD to third-party storage arrays can be encrypted. This is in contrast to drive based approaches such as self encrypting devices (SED) or other full drive encryption approaches. With embedded key management, encryption keys kept and managed within the VMAX system while external mode leverages RSA key management as part of a broader security solution approach.
  • In terms of addressing ease of decision-making and acquisition, EMC has bundled core Enginuity software suite (virtual provisioning, FTS and FLM, DCP (dynamic cache partitioning), host I/O limits, Optimizer/virtual LUN and integrated RecoverPoint splitter). In addition are bundles for optimization (FAST VP, EMC Unisphere for VMAX with heat map and dashboards), availability (TimeFinder for VMAX 10K) and migration (Symmetrix migration suite, Open Replicator, Open Migrator, SRDF/DM, Federated Live Migration). Additional optional software include RecoverPoint CDP, CRR and CLR, Replication Manager, PowerPath, SRDF/S, SRDF/A and SRDF/DM, Storage Configuration Advisor, Open Replicator with Dynamic Mobility and ControlCenter/ProSphere package.

Who needs a VMAX 10K or where can it be used'

As the entry-level model of the VMAX family, certain organizations who are growing and looking for an alternative to traditional mid-range storage systems should be a primary opportunity. Assuming the VMAX 10K can sell at tier-2 prices with a focus of tier-1 reliability, feature functionality, and simplification while allowing their channel partners to make some money, then EMC can have success with this product. The challenge however will be helping their direct and channel partner sales organizations to avoid competing with their own products (e.g. high-end VNX) vs. those of others.

Consolidation of servers with virtualization, along with storage system consolidation to remove complexity in management and costs should be another opportunity with the ability to virtualize third-party storage. I would expect EMC and their channel partners to place the VMAX 10K with its storage virtualization of third-party storage as an alternative to HDS VSP (aka USP/USPV) and the HP XP P9000 (Hitachi based) products, or for block storage needs the NetApp V-Series among others. There could be some scenarios where the VMAX 10K could be positioned as an alternative to the IBM V7000 (SVC based) for virtualizing third-party storage, or for larger environments, some of the software based appliances where there is a scaling with stability (performance, availability, capacity, ease of management, feature functionality) concerns.

Another area where the VMAX 10K could see action which will fly in the face of some industry thinking is for deployment in new and growing managed service providers (MSP), public cloud, and community clouds (private consortiums) looking for an alternative to open source based, or traditional mid-range solutions. Otoh, I cant wait to hear somebody think outside of both the old and new boxes about how a VMAX 10K could be used beyond traditional applications or functionality. For example filling it up with a few SSDs, and then balance with 1TB 2.5 inch SAS HDD and 3.5 inch 3TB (or larger when available) HDDs as an active archive target leveraging the built-in data compression.

How about if EMC were to support cloud optimized HDDs such as the Seagate Constellation Cloud Storage (CS) HDDs that were announced late in 2012 as well as the newer enterprise class HDDs for opening up new markets' Also keep in mind that some of the new 2.5 inch SAS 10,000 (10K) HDDs have the same performance capabilities as traditional 3.5 inch 15,000 (15K) RPM drives in a smaller footprint to help drive and support increased density of performance and capacity with improved energy effectiveness.

How about attaching a VMAX 10K with the right type of cost-effective (aligned to a given scenario) SSD or HDDs or third-party storage to a cluster or grid of servers that are running OpenStack including Swift, CloudStack, Basho Riak CS, Celversafe, Scality, Caringo, Ceph or even EMCs own ATMOS (that supports external storage) for cloud storage or object based storage solutions' Granted that would be thinking outside of the current or new box thinking to move away from RAID based systems in favor or low-cost JBOD storage in servers, however what the heck, let’s think in pragmatic ways.

Will EMC be able to open new markets and opportunities by making the VMAX and its Enginuity software platform and functionality more accessible and affordable leveraging the VMAX 10K as well as the VMAX SP' Time will tell, after all, I recall back in the mid to late 90s, and then again several times during the 2000s similar questions or conversations not to mention the demise of the large traditional storage systems.

 

PART III

In addition to the VMAX 10K specific updates, EMC also announced the release of a new version of their Enginuity storage software (firmware, storage operating system). Enginuity is supported across all VMAX platforms and features the following:

  • Replication enhancements include TimeFinder clone refresh, restore and four site SRDF for the VMAX 10K, along with think or thin support. This capability enables functionality across VMAX 10K, 40K or 20K using synchronous or asynchronous and extends earlier 3 site to 4 site and mix modes. Note that larger VMAX systems had the extended replication feature support with VMAX 10K now on par with those. Note that the VMAX can be enhanced with VPLEX in front of storage systems (local or wide area, in region HA and out of region DR) and RecoverPoint behind the systems supporting bi-synchronous (two-way), synchronous and asynchronous data protection (CDP, replication, snapshots).
  • Unisphere for VMAX 1.5 manages DMX along with VMware VAAI UNMAP and space reclamation, block zero and hardware clone enhancements, IPV6, Microsoft Server 2012 support and VFCache 1.5.
  • Support for mix of 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch DAEs (disk array enclosures) along with new SAS drive support (high-performance and high-capacity, and various flash-based SSD or EFD).
  • The addition of a fourth dynamic tier within FAST for supporting third-party virtualized storage, along with compression of in-active, cold or stale data (manual or automatic) with 2 to 1 data footprint reduction (DFR) ratio. Note that EMC was one of early vendors to put compression into its storage systems on a block LUN basis in the CLARiiON (now VNX) along with NetApp and IBM (via their Storwize acquisition). The new fourth tier also means that third-party storage does not have to be the lowest tier in terms of performance or functionality.
  • Federated Tiered Storage (FTS) is now available on all EMC block storage systems including those with third-party storage attached in virtualization mode (e.g. VMAX). In addition to supporting tiering across its own products, and those of other vendors that have been virtualized when attached to a VMAX, ANSI T10 Data Integrity Field (DIF) is also supported. Read more about T10 DIF here, and here.
  • Front-end performance enhancements with host I/O limits (Quality of Service or QoS) for multi tenant and cloud environments to balance or prioritize IO across ports and users. This feature can balance based on thresholds for IOPS, bandwidth or both from the VMAX. Note that this feature is independent of any operating system based tool, utility, pathing driver or feature such as VMware DRS and Storage I/O control. Storage groups are created and mapped to specific host ports on the VMAX with the QoS performance thresholds applied to meet specific service level requirements or objectives.

For discussion (or entertainment) purpose, how about the question of if Enginuity qualifies or can be considered as a storage hypervisors (or storage virtualization or virtual storage)' After all, the VMAX is now capable of having third-party storage from other vendors attached to it, something that HDS has done for many years now. For those who feel a storage hypervisor, virtual storage or storage virtualization requires software running on Intel or other commodity based processors, guess what the VMAX uses for CPU processors (granted, you can’t simply download Enginuity software and run on a Dell, HP, IBM, Oracle or SuperMicro server).

I am guessing some of EMC competitors and their surrogates or others who like to play the storage hypervisor card game will be quick to tell you it is not based on various reasons or product comparisons, however you be the judge.

Back to the question of if, traditional high-end storage arrays are dead or dying (from part one in this series).

IMHO as mentioned not yet.

Granted like other technologies that have been declared dead or dying yet still in use (technology zombies), they continue to be enhanced, finding new customers, or existing customers using them in new ways, their roles are evolving, this still alive.

For some environments as has been the case over the past decade or so, there will be a continued migration from large legacy enterprise class storage systems to midrange or modular storage arrays with a mix of SSD and HDD. Thus, watch out for having a death grip not letting go of the past, while being careful about flying blind into the future. Do not be scared, be ready, do your homework with clouds, virtualization and traditional physical resources.

Likewise, there will be the continued migration for some from traditional mid-range class storage arrays to all flash-based appliances. Yet others will continue to leverage all the above in different roles aligned to where their specific features best serve the applications and needs of an organization.

In the case of high-end storage systems such as EMC VMAX (aka formerly known as DMX and Symmetrix before that) based on its Enginuity software, the hardware platforms will continue to evolve as will the software functionality. This means that these systems will evolve to handling more workloads, as well as moving into new environments from service providers to mid-range organizations where the systems were before out of their reach.

Smaller environments have grown larger as have their needs for storage systems while higher end solutions have scaled down to meet needs in different markets. What this means is a convergence of where smaller environments have bigger data storage needs and can afford the capabilities of scaled down or Right-sized storage systems such as the VMAX 10K.

Thus while some of the high-end systems may fade away faster than others, for those that continue to evolve being able to move into different adjacent markets or usage scenarios, they will be around for some time, at least in some environments.

Avoid confusing what is new and cool falling under industry adoption vs. what is productive and practical for customer deployment. Systems like the VMAX 10K are not for all environments or applications; however, for those who are open to exploring alternative solutions and approaches, it could open new opportunities.

If there is a high-end storage system platform (e.g. Enginuity) that continues to evolve, re-invent itself in terms of moving into or finding new uses and markets the EMC VMAX would be at or near the top of such list. For the other vendors of high-end storage system that are also evolving, you can have an Atta boy or Atta girl as well to make you feel better, loved and not left out or off of such list. ;)

Ok, nuff said for now.

Disclosure: EMC is not a StorageIO client; however, they have been in the past directly and via acquisitions that they have done. I am however a customer of EMC via my Iomega IX4 NAS (I never did get the IX2 that I supposedly won at EMCworld ;) ) that I bought on Amazon.com and indirectly via VMware products that I have, oh, and they did sent me a copy of the new book Human Face of Big Data (read more here).

Learn more about flash and SSD at http://thessdplace.com and storage performance at http://storageperformance.us

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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