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EMC users make Symm 7 wish list

Jo Maitland, Senior Executive Editor
NEW ORLEANS -- EMC Corp. is sticking firmly to its policy of silence over the next release of its high-end Symmetrix storage array, expected later this year. But this didn't stop its customers from speaking their minds about what they would like to see in the next release of the product.

The seventh refresh of the Symmetrix comes at a time when EMC's midrange Clariion sales are experiencing extraordinary growth, while its high-end line has taken a knocking. For the first quarter of 2005, which ended April 19, EMC reported Clariion revenue grew 47% year-over-year while its high-end sales fell 3% year-over-year. The company said that it expects Symmetrix revenue to grow year-over-year despite being down in the first quarter.

Analysts attribute the dip in Symm sales to EMC's competitors gaining share at its expense. Shebly Seyrafi, analyst with Merrill Lynch, said in a recent note to investors that Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS) gained over five percentage points of market share in the high-end RAID market in the first quarter of 2005, with its new TagmaStore array announced last September.

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Meanwhile, IBM lost only one percentage point of share (far less than the typical eight to10 percentage points of share decline in this quarter) and EMC lost four percentage points of share. IBM lost far less share than normal because of its DS8000 (the new Shark) that sold well late in the March quarter, Seyrafi said.

In other words, EMC will have some catching up to do once the Symm 7 finally enters the market.

Users at the company's Technology Summit meeting in New Orleans this week expressed plenty of interest in the next model and spoke about some of the key improvements they hope it will offer.

Thomas Otake, information services manager at Neiman Marcus, recently moved a department off multiple Clariion arrays to four Symmetrix systems for better performance. "I would like to be able to have more control of the cache instead of the preset limits it provides today -- that way we can cut down on disk activity where it's not required," he said.

Computer Sciences Corp. database administrator Art Ullman talked about the need for 300 GB disk drives as the current DMX models only support 146 GB drives. He would also like to see seamless replication between the Symmetrix and Clariion.

Chris Gahagan, senior vice president of infrastructure software at EMC, noted that users should consider the performance implications of replicating from a high-performing Symm to a lower performing Clariion. For write-intensive applications, he said it might not make sense as the Symmetrix performance will take a hit waiting for the Clariion to catch up with it.

More front-end ports was the request from Abraham George, Unix team lead with Pactiv Corp. He has two DMX 2000 systems that provide 64 ports each today. "We are a DAS environment and don't want to pay for a SAN," he said. "The DMX is very stable and works the way they say it does, but it sure is expensive," he added.

Novus Consulting Group, a third-party implementer of storage products, has many large customers using EMC storage systems and frequently runs into the same problems.

The service processor on the Symm runs on a laptop attached to the array, and according to Matt Parkinson, solutions architect with Novus, like any laptop it will die from time to time. He said that while the box stays up and running, once the laptop dies, users can't make any configuration changes to the system. "Technically, it is still running, but if you can't make any changes on the business side, that's considered downtime." Opening up access to the Symmetrix would help, he said.

Another problem he runs into concerns the robustness of the track tables in the Enginuity operating system on the DMX. These tables keep track of how out of sync one volume is with another in products like TimeFinder and SRDF. "When you change attributes on certain devices, that track table gets blown away … that's lots of data you have to resync from scratch -- that can take days," he said.

Despite some of these management problems, Parkinson said that the DMX is the most advanced high-end system on the market. "There is so much flexibility in what you can do inside the array and short of knocking it with a bowling ball, it is pretty resilient."

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