EMC launches clustered cloud-based storage system

EMC rolls out its policy-based information management system for the clouds to help customers control large amounts of information that can be accessed by their users worldwide.

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EMC Corp. today launched the clustered cloud-based storage system formerly known as Maui but with the new name of Atmos. The launch came one year after EMC first teased customers with a glimpse at the product at an EMC Innovation Day.

The software has been ready and shipping since June, but EMC held off on the clustered cloud-based storage system's official launch, "because people don't pay as much attention in summer as in the fall," said Mike Feinberg, vice president of EMC's cloud infrastructure group.

Atmos (short for atmosphere) is the software piece of the clustered cloud-based storage system. The hardware piece, which was code-named Hulk, was launched independently late last year. But the object-based data management software is what makes the system different than any other EMC storage offering.

Atmos is available as software-only, but EMC recommends that customers use Atmos bundled with the hardware. Feinberg expects few will buy it as software-only.

EMC calls Atmos cloud-optimized storage (COS). The company considers COS the architecture that can best deal with the massive growth of new types of information that must be accessed by users around the world. Atmos is targeted at service providers, telcos, Web 2.0 application providers and media/entertainment companies.

Atmos runs on x86 1U servers and SATA JBODs. The hardware comes in three configurations:

  • The WS1-120 has eight servers and eight enclosures, each holding fifteen 1 TB SATA disks for 120 TB.
  • The WS1-240 holds 16 servers and 16 disk enclosures for 240 TB.
  • The WS1-360 is more of a capacity configuration with six servers and 24 enclosures for 360 TB.
Atmos uses a unified namespace to scale by treating multiple systems as one.

No RAID, but enough reliabiility
Feinberg said Atmos scales to petabytes and can store billions of objects. There is no RAID, he said, but EMC contends that low-cost hardware can provide enough reliability when there are copies of data in enough places.

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Atmos uses object-based metadata to allow users to set policies that determine where to store information, which services to apply to it, how many copies should be stored and in which locations. Web services REST and SOAP are built in, as are capabilities such as replication, versioning, compression, data deduplication and disk spin-down. Customers don't have to set up file systems or assign LUNs; during setup, they simply answer a few questions to set policy.

"The software is where the intelligence is," Feinberg said. "We're essentially using DAS servers. When you're talking about petabytes, the last thing a customer wants to do is get a bunch of boxes in, cable them up, rack it and stick it. We knew we couldn't use specialized hardware and had to use commodity hardware."

Software the elusive piece
Analysts agree that software is what distinguishes Atmos from other clustered systems on the market and those coming, such as HP's StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System, as well as anything else EMC ships. The management software in Atmos "is the elusive piece," said analyst Greg Schulz of StorageIO Group. "That's what we've been waiting for."

"EMC has built a whole new category around bulk storage," he added. "It's for providing large amounts of storage for low cost with basic redundancy. These don't have to be the fastest systems. It's about good speed, large capacity, management and low cost."

According to Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles, EMC has succeeded in tailoring the system to cloud computing. "They've rolled out basically a file object-based architecture for storage on a cloud," he said. "When storing data across the Web or in a cloud, you do the policy at an application level." Boles said, "Integrating policies in a deep way into the storage layer where applications can trigger them is an interesting take on this. I would expect something in this space from everybody that has scale-out NAS or is hinting at scale-out NAS."

The talk in the storage industry is that EMC was using Ibrix software for its clustered file system. And while Atmos does include capabilities (such as global namespace) that Ibrix offers, Feinberg said that no other vendor's IP is used outside of EMC. "It's all EMC technology," he said. "Frankly, there's no Ibrix software and no other people's software. It's built from the ground with home-grown technology, although we do use open source technology as we see fit."

Cannibalization challenge
EMC faces a similar challenge as IBM did with its clustered block storage XIV: how to sell it without displacing its other storage systems on the market. "Their biggest challenge is getting their salespeople to sell this without cannibalizing their other products," Schulz said.

Atmos may be limited to service providers at first, Boles said. "This has an incredible bang for the buck for service providers." "It will be a while before the rest of industry sees an opportunity to deploy this technology. When some folks turn to internal service providers, this may change how we feel about file storage."

Despite all the talk about low cost, EMC isn't releasing pricing information. Feinberg said only that EMC would be "aggressive" on pricing.

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