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EMC World notebook

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Notes, quotes and anecdotes from EMC World 2011:

All of EMC’s talk about the cloud this week brought up the inevitable questions about public trust in the cloud, especially after high-profile outages like the one suffered by Amazon EC2 a few weeks ago.
EMC CEO Joe Tucci said EMC has already solved the kinds of problems that caused the Amazon crash and other cloud glitches.

“Customers have to be able to recover their data quickly, and that’s what EMC does for a living,” Tucci said. “The Amazon issue had to do with the way data is recovered. Obviously we’ve been doing this for a long time. It took Amazon a long time to recreate lost data and some of that data won’t be recovered. We keep extra copies. If you lose it, we say, ‘OK, it’s lost, but we have an extra copy.’ We also give the option to encrypt data on storage, so if data gets stolen, you have encrypted data.”

Support claims rankle some customers

EMC held a Big Data Summit during the show, consisting of about 30 Isilon customers. The customers were asked what EMC can do better and while most offered suggestions for new product features, a few raised customer support issues. One long-time EMC customer who purchased Isilon storage after EMC acquired the NAS vendor in January took issue with EMC president Pat Gelsinger’s comments that EMC support is consistently among the best in the industry.

“Your support is ugly and as you make acquisitions, it gets uglier,” said the customer, an information services director at a telephone company. “That’s a concern I have with Isilon. I like what I hear from [other users] that you don’t have to touch it for six months, but the day I touch it I need support.”

He talked about spending eight hours on the phone with support once for a Clariion problem. He said he spoke with EMC’s support center in Ireland from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m., and then was moved to another call center before the problem was fixed. “A problem that should’ve taken 20 minutes to fix took eight hours,” he said. “Around 8:15, my EMC salesman called and said he wanted to take us to dinner. I said, ‘You can take us to dinner, but bring a truck and take this thing out of here.’”

Gelsinger was gone by then, leaving EMC global marketing CTO Chuck Hollis to take the brunt of the complaints. “When I hear stories like that, I want to cry,” Hollis told him.

Another customer said she found VMware support lacking for customers using EMC storage, even though EMC is the majority owner of VMware. Hollis pointed out VMware is a separately run company, but said EMC recently spent $60 million to hire VMware specialists inside EMC.

Symmetrix sets the table for FCoE

Fibre Channel over Etherenet (FCoE) support for EMC’s VMAX seems like a minor enhancement now, but EMC’s chief strategy officer for enterprise storage Barry Burke said he expects FCoE to become the dominant protocol over time. “I think at the end of the day, FCoE wins out,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of customers ask about it. The problem is, there aren’t a lot of storage targets that support it. Now we have FCoE support across the board.”

EMC is expected to add support for SAS drives to VMAX later this year, but Burke said “there’s not a rush” to phase out Fibre Channel drives because there is still customer interest. He said EMC has also advised its Symmetrix DMX customers not to expect any software upgrades as all of its development is going into the newer VMAX platform.

Centera’s still alive

EMC has made a lot of product noise this year with its massive January launch, a February investors event and this week’s EMC World. But its object-based Centera archive system hasn’t had any updates, and barely a word was spoken about it during those three events. That leads me to believe that Centera is either a perfect product that needs no further development or it’s about to be put to rest.

Neither is the case, according to Jon Martin, director of product management for EMC’s Cloud Infrastructure Group.

“Despite what you might hear from our competitors, Centera is not end of life,” Martin said. “In the second half of the year we’ll have a new release addressing some customer requests for features.”

Martin did admit Centera is “mature technology – not a lot of revolutionary features we can add” but said it still has a role despite EMC’s newer and shinier Atmos object-based cloud storage platform. He said Centera has advanced compliance and data retention capabilities that Atmos is not built to address.

Will big data, SSDs push primary dedupe?

Permabit CEO Tom Cook was among the attendees at EMC World, and said the big data theme made him optimistic about his company’s Albireo primary data deduplication technology. “There’s an opportunity to Data Domain this space,” he said, referring to the ability to do for primary data what Data Domain has done for backups.

Cook said besides helping to offset customers’ rapid data growth, primary dedupe can help make solid state drives (SSDs) more economical by reducing the amount of data that goes on them.

Cook also said his OEM deals with BlueArc and Xiotech should result in those vendors delivering products with Albireo this year. He said it was Permabit’s decision to end its deal with LSI after NetApp acquired LSI’s Engenio storage division because its other OEM partners consider NetApp a major competitor.

Rainfinity Redux

Remember Rainfinity? EMC acquired the file virtualization vendor in 2005 only to phase out its product line. Now Rainfinity technology has resurfaced in the Cloud Tiering Appliance EMC launched this week. The CTA migrates files from storage devices to the cloud, from hardware of EMC competitors onto EMC storage or from one EMC system to another.

EMC to do more with Hadoop

EMC’s support of Hadoop on its Greenplum appliances is likely the first step in the storage vendor’s deeper involvement with the Hadoop open source community. “We have work to do to establish ourselves as a credible player in the Hadoop community,” EMC chief marketing officer Jeremy Burton said. “We have to contribute.”

EMC executives say they can add technology to provide fault tolerance, mirroring and high availability to Hadoop. The work with Hadoop will be done through the Greenplum team, Burton said.

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