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Unified storage gets flashier with EMC VNX2 launch

Dave Raffo

EMC Corp. today made its long-awaited launch of its second-generation VNX unified storage platform, upgrading the platform with new controllers and software designed to take better advantage of flash.

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The EMC VNX2 rollout consists of six hybrid arrays that can combine solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard disks, as well as an all-flash model. EMC claims its flash optimization improves speeds to as much as four times greater than those of the first-generation VNX.

While EMC included SSDs as an option in VNX since 2011, it never designed controllers and software for flash in previous versions.

"In previous versions we assumed the bulk of the array was going to be a disk drive and a little bit of flash," said Eric Herzog, senior vice president of product management for EMC's unified storage. "In this pass, we've completely optimized the box for flash. Now the controller is engineered to take advantage of flash no matter what."

Herzog said the new controllers remove bottlenecks that impede flash by increasing lanes from the CPU to the PCI Express bus from 60 to 160.

The original VNX came about as a merger of EMC's Clariion SAN and Celera's NAS platforms. All of the software was single-threaded and could not take full advantage of multiple-core CPUs. With VNX2, EMC developed dynamic multicore optimization software that sits on top of the block and file operating systems to take advantage of Intel's multicore technology and distributes all VNX data across up to 32 cores to improve performance.

"A lot of the magic fairy dust here is around the software," Herzog said.

EMC claims that the highest-end new system -- the VNX8000 -- can handle up to 1.1 million transactions, 30 GB per second of bandwidth and 6 petabytes of capacity.

The following are the new hybrid models:

  • VNX5200, with 125 drives, 600 GB of FAST Cache and one or two X-Blades (NAS heads)
  • VNX5400, with 250 drives, 1 TB of FAST Cache and one or two X-Blades
  • VNX5600, with 500 drives, 2 TB of FAST Cache and one or two X-Blades
  • VNX5800, with 750 drives, 3 TB of FAST Cache and two or three X-Blades
  • VNX7600, with 1,000 drives, 4.2 TB of FAST Cache and two to four X-Blades
  • VNX8000, with 1,000 drives (with plans to expand to 1,500 drives), 4.2 TB of FAST Cache and two to eight X-Blades.

Each model includes two storage processors that range in memory per processor from 16 GB on the lower-end systems to 126 GB on the VNX8000. CPU cores range from four on lower models to 16 on the VNX8000. The VNX2 arrays support CIFS, NFS and pNFS for files and 8 Gbps Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Fibre Channel over Ethernet for block storage.

Customers can choose from among 300 GB, 600 GB and 900 GB SAS drives; 1 TB, 2 TB and 3 TB (NL) SAS hard drives; and 100 GB, 200 GB and 400 GB enterprise multi-level cell SSDs in storage pools. The EMC VNX2 systems also use 100 GB and 200 GB single-level cell SSDs for FAST Cache.

The VNX7600-F is an all-flash array that scales to 400 TB of capacity. EMC claims that the VNX7600-F can handle 500,000 8K IOPS, but Herzog pointed out that EMC's XtremIO all-flash system is twice as fast, with half the latency of the VNX7600-F. "XtremIO is still our top dog for flash," he said.

The new VNX boxes also include post-process, fixed block data deduplication for primary storage. VNX will dedupe at 8K blocks and at the LUN level. Like the original VNX systems, the VNX2 arrays support single-instance storage to reduce file storage capacity.

EMC also said that the VNX5400, 5600 and 5800 will be included in new Vspex reference architectures, and it will also add recently launched Avamar 7 backup software and Data Domain DD2500 and DD4200 disk backup systems to Vspex.

The new VNX systems will be included in Vblock configurations sold by VCE, a joint venture formed by EMC, Cisco and VMware. VCE is expected to announce its new Vblocks later this month.

IDC storage analyst Ashish Nadkarni said the new architecture will help performance on hard drives as well as flash.

"This is not really about flash; it's about how they handle calls inside the controller," he said. "The benefits of doing multicore will extend to disk-based arrays.

"EMC had to fundamentally change the way the calls are handled and the way CPUs function," Nadkarni continued. "[EMC] overhauled the data path and moved to a common data plan with two pools of calls: one for block and one for file."

The EMC VNX2 launch was originally expected at EMC World in May, but the new systems were delayed, presumably because the flash optimization took longer than expected. The original plan called for five hybrid VNX systems and two new entry-level VNXe models. The high-end VNX8000 was added to the final lineup, and the VNXe launch has been pushed to early 2014.

EMC did not give pricing details, but said the new systems will cost about the same as the previous VNX models.


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