EMC VNX [EOL] Review

​The VNX 5700 provides a large number of features including the ability to work for both file and block as a unified array.

What is our primary use case?

We use it for our production environment for the last 5 years. We use it as a Unified box which includes both File and Block storage on the same unit.

How has it helped my organization?

Our company saved money in maintaining the unified platform in most of our locations and has the ability to perform backups and replication of the unit with similar arrays.

What is most valuable?

The VNX 5700 provides a large number of features including the ability to work for both file and block as a unified array. The ability to run a unified array is a great advantage when the company economics would not allow you to have separate arrays for your servers and another one for your file systems and use the unit as NAS. Through a single interface called UNISPHERE™, we manage the array. It allows you to administer both the block and file in a single pane. The process of extending the size of either an LUN or a file system is very intuitive. It also provides a command line interface that you can use to connect using Putty.exe but some of the commands that you can execute through the GUI are not available in CLI, or at least that is what EMC support has told me.

Another great feature is the checkpoints for file systems. We use the checkpoints as backups for our file system instead of having them in a separate product. It is a risk to put the backups and production data in the same array, but we understood it and went with it. We have limited times when our checkpoints become corrupted for some reason (reaching a maximum size of a file system 16TB) or another but the majority of the time works according to plan. For the block, you can use LUN cloning and have the ability to present a copy of the same LUN used for production to your test environment and test applications, programs, OS, or any others without affecting your production environment.

The replication feature provides another functionality to protect your data. In our scenario, we only use it for disaster recovery. Since we have a global presence and we are tasked to protect data from around the globe, we have enabled replication between locations. The replication works well between VNX and Celerra NS480s, NS40s, NS20s or NX4s. You can also set replication between VNXe (1st generation, like VNXe3300, VNX3150, or others) where your VNXe is the source. However, you can not set up a file system replication when the VNXe is the target of your replication job. Also, there are limitations with VNXe replication (second generation, like VNXe3200) since it would not allow you to establish replication partners.

UNISPHERE™ Analyzer allows you to see the hot spots on the block side. When you enable the Analyzer, it collects performance data and then with EMC support you can see the areas of problem in the array. It allows you to justify adding more space or moving your servers around to other LUNs with less saturation. Once the user becomes familiar with how the Analyzer works, he/she could run it without engaging support and identify areas of concern. It is very helpful to show the application teams if the storage is causing the slowness of a particular application hosted in the specific LUN or not.

What needs improvement?

Once you establish a replication job, when the file system is synchronizing its data to the target file system, it tends to create a balloon effect where it creates a file system that grows as the new data is synchronizing. It would be very helpful if the replication job could incorporate a self-cleaning job after the synchronization job completes to reduce the size of the file system in the target automatically. Very often, we have to run a script called “SavVolReclaim” to clean up space consumed while the replication is in progress. If the replication job hits its maximum capacity of 16TB while synchronizing, it stops the replication job. By adding this reclaim process natively, it would eliminate additional unnecessary work for the storage administrators.

It would be very helpful to get an automated report that shows you the size of the checkpoints and get warnings when a checkpoint is reaching either maximum capacity per a file system or hitting the ceiling on the SavVol pool consumption.

For how long have I used the solution?

More than five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

A few years back, we ran into a problem where datamover hosting our file systems panicked due to an incompatibility with a Mac OS, and in another case with WAN Accelerator SMB protocols. The VNX5700 is very stable, and it has a lot of redundancy built in.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

In this version of the VNX, the maximum size of a file system is 16TB. The maximum number of read-only checkpoints per file system is 96 and 16 writeable checkpoints. The maximum number of physical drives in the VNX5700 is 500. However, you can work with EMC and ask them for RFQ to go beyond the number of physical drives to add a few more.

How are customer service and technical support?

EMC technical support is great when you get the right resource. Like any other support center, they have levels of support. Level 1 is an entry level person that is learning more about the product and sometimes is new to the company. The Level 1s are great for simple questions or issues. When you face more complex issues, try to ask them to escalate the case to the next level. They need to justify the reason to escalate the case, so the more information that you can provide the better. Level 2 and Level 3 are more skilled and have more experience with the product. Level 4s are the subject matter experts, they know the product well and understand issues and interoperability with other products.

A great added benefit is that you can add your VNX to the ESRS gateways. When a problem arises, EMC could connect to the array directly and start troubleshooting the issue before you get in to see what is causing the problem. This activity would generate a support request, and the EMC Technical Support Engineer could contact the person included in the system by either email or phone and let him/her know of the issue that the array is facing. They would not make any changes without your written authorization.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We have the Celerra NS480s, NS40s, NS20. We switched because the arrays were at the end of life by EMC support.

How was the initial setup?

We migrated from Celerras to VNX. The migration process was very complex. We needed to make sure that the CIFS servers had all the data and the replication of data would not start over from zero and saturate our network traffic with data that we already replicated once.

What about the implementation team?

We used EMC professional services to assist with the implementation.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

EMC is a good company with which to negotiate pricing, especially if you are a new customer for them. In our experience, it is better to ask for End of Life (EOL) of a particular product before you purchase it. I would suggest buying five-year support contracts so EMC can provide you with a better discount. The trend in the industry is coming to flat support contract year after year, but EMC is not there yet. EMC Support year to year could become cost prohibitive. Only buy the licenses for what you would need. The sales team may try to sell you everything. If needed, engage a consultant to review your configuration and pricing.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We did not evaluate other products in proof of concept, but we looked at EMC Isilon, NetApp, and Hitachi.

What other advice do I have?

The VNX is a good platform, but like any other storage unit, it has some limitations. If you are doing a migration from your current environment, make sure that you purchase professional services that include physical or remote presence during the migration or cutover. Write all your requirements and make sure that the EMC sales team validates with the professional team all your requirements. Although EMC would assist you in most of the process, I prefer to get everything in writing and not just in words. Take the time to thoroughly define all your requirements and identify the items that you would perform versus the vendor to avoid surprises when you are in the middle of the migration or cutover.

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