EMC Corp. reveals storage automation plans at EMC World 2009

Storage automation theme of EMC's product roadmap. Navisphere to become VM-aware. EMC and VMware Inc. plan greater automation between Atmos and VMware vSphere with Project Zoka.

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Storage automation will be a major theme of EMC Corp.'s product roadmap the rest of this year, according to hints company executives dropped during the first day of EMC World 2009. However, EMC must still convince some wary show attendees that it's a good idea to take storage system control out of their hands.

EMC is planning a Clariion refresh in the second half of the year, according to a presentation given by a group of storage division executives Monday. The company's midrange Navisphere management software will be made "VM-aware," meaning it will feature automatic discovery of ESX servers in the environment, and an end-to-end view of virtual and physical resources. The new software will also be capable of maintaining relationships between virtual machines (VMs) and their underlying physical storage.

The Clariion update will add the fully automated storage tiering (FAST) feature EMC already rolled out for Celerra and Symmetrix V-Max this year. Frank Hauck, executive vice president, EMC's Storage Division, said "customers wanted the same features, like storage tiering options, across our product family."

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Some customers at EMC World 2009 were more skeptical. Ryan Perkowski, storage manager at a leading credit card issuer in the U.S., who asked that his company not be identified because corporate policy forbids him to represent it in the media, said he isn't a big fan of automated management. "Relying on an automated tool scares me," he said. "It's all great when it's working, but when the rubber hits the road, you don't want to look at the CTO and say, 'Sorry, this piece of software we bought did something wrong.'"

VMware and Atmos – The future of automation?

During his keynote Monday morning, VMware Inc. president and CEO Paul Maritz discussed potential further integration to come between VMware vSphere and EMC's Atmos cloud storage system though an effort dubbed "Project Zoka." The collaboration between VMware and EMC's cloud storage group aims to coordinate automation between VMware and Atmos.

Maritz said this integration is necessary to enable the kind of flexibility VMware envisions for the "virtual data center" in which applications and workloads are moved among physical resources according to policy.

"There are dependencies between applications and storage that need to be mapped -- you might have enough room on a storage system to move an application to it, but you have to think two steps ahead," to ensure service levels, Maritz said.

Project Zoka will address the way the Atmos system could calculate and respond to VMware to move lower-tier applications within the infrastructure to make room for a temporarily demanding one. Eventually, according to Maritz, "there are different elements that can be attached to packet flows, to check whether each bit of data should be archived or have security policies applied to it, and then schedule underlying physical services to meet those policies."

Atmos could also be integrated with VMware View to let customers port their data from one laptop or desktop to another without the data residing permanently on any workstation. Instead, it would reside in the computing cloud, and VMware View would communicate with a centralized system such as Atmos to communicate what data should be downloaded to which endpoint. VMware View is the software suite that includes VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

"It's ambitious," said Chris M. Evans, storage consultant and owner of Brookend Ltd., a storage and virtualization consultancy in Barton-le-Clay, U.K. "It seems like a great idea, but I worry about bit consistency – for example, if files are open and you move things around, what happens?"

Evans said he wasn't sure most conservative customers were quite ready to take the plunge just yet into storage automation and cloud computing.

"Most people probably don't realize what they actually want; they don't necessarily have a long-term vision," he said. "They're focused on short-term problems."

Centera, CX-Symm connection?

EMC's Hauck said in Monday's storage division keynote that Centera – the only hardware platform from EMC that hasn't been refreshed in the last year – will also receive a facelift later this year, adding "scalability and federation." Hauck didn't offer further details, and an EMC spokesperson declined further comment about the archiving platform.

During a Q&A with international media Monday afternoon, EMC CEO Joe Tucci hinted that there'll be increased communication between Clariion and enterprise Symmetrix systems. "There will be mechanisms where they can talk to each other," Tucci said. "There are some interesting things coming next year, which I don't want to pre-announce."

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