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EMC aims for all-flash, all-the-time primary storage

While waiting to become part of Dell, EMC is planning a massive flash injection into its storage systems.

David Goulden, CEO of EMC Information Infrastructure, teased new product launches to the VMX, VNX, DSSD and Data Domain product lines Wednesday during EMC’s earnings conference call. Flash will play a major role in all of the primary storage arrays, including at least one new all-flash platform.

“Flash is one of the megatrends that’s changing the infrastructure business forever,” said Goulden’s boss, EMC CEO Joe Tucci.

Goulden didn’t give away too many details, but he said VMAX enterprise and VNX midrange arrays would be “re-archtected” for flash. The VMAX and VNX are legacy arrays developed for hard disk drives but were retrofitted to accompany solid-state drives (SSDs) when they became available for primary storage. Goulden said new all-flash versions will include substantial changes to take full advantage of new flash technologies.

In an attempt to set a record for using the word “flash” the most times in a sentence, Goulden said this quarter EMC will introduce “a new flash-optimized all-flash VMAX that will significantly change the way flash is deployed in high-end primary storage.”

It’s unclear if EMC will re-name VNX or add another midrange product. While Goulden referred to VNX by name several times on the call, he also talked about a “mid-tier storage family’ coming in the second quarter, “which will change the use cases for flash in the mid-tier.” Whether that is VNX or another family remains to be seen.

DSSD is a new product, with technology acquired when EMC bought Andy Bechtolsheim-founded startup DSSD in 2014. EMC has previewed server-based DSSD at events over the past year but the system has not been released. Goulden said DSSD will launch this quarter, calling it a “quantum leap” in flash. He said DSSD will deliver “mind-blowing performance, bandwidth and latency for high-performance business applications like Hadoop analytics and ultra high-performance databases.”

Goulden did not mention any updates to XtremIO, which is the market leader in all-flash systems with $1 billion worth of sales in 2015. He did mention integrated copy data management (ICDM) added to XtremIO last year that puts database copies on primary storage.

EMC will also release a software-only version of the Data Domain disk backup platform and new converged products from VCE. The vendor has been in development with the virtual Data Domain for several years but wasn’t sure if it should cannibalize its popular hardware backup system.

Goulden said EMC and VMware have developed “a new next-generation hyper-converged appliance family” and VMware will make an announcement in February.

Despite any backup or hyper-converged developments, 2016 is shaping up as the year of all-flash for EMC. Or as Goulden said, a shift to “all-flash, all-the time ‘ in the midrange and high end.

“Flash is not about a single product,” Goulden said. “It’s a key technology across our portfolio. We really think that the technology has advanced to the stage with the latest 3D NAND technology and things like 3.8 terabyte drives. Of course you need to architect your system to optimize to use something that big and that fast, which is why we talked about the re-architecting. We can really come to market with a complete family of VNX, VMAX, XtremIO, DSSD, leveraging this latest technology and basically use all-flash all the time for primary storage.”

Product overlap is nothing new to EMC, but how will it explain to customers which all-flash platform to use?

“DSSD is going to address a whole new class of workloads,” Goulden said. “XtremIO and VMAX are playing in broadly similar markets, but with different attributes. The mid-tier line fits underneath that. So we really have the market exceptionally well covered and of course we’re leading with an all-flash agenda.