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EMC raises the bar for NAS

EMC replaces its old NAS box with the Celerra NSX, which offers clustering, file virtualization and significantly higher maximum capacity.

EMC Corp. has announced a new NAS gateway that replaces its older, proprietary CNS model with a standard architecture and significantly enhanced software and performance capabilities.

The new Celerra NSX NAS gateway uses what EMC calls X-Blades, or 2U high servers to scale performance and capacity by growing the number of NAS blades in the NSX while still being part of a single system. The X-Blades replace EMC's Data Movers, which looked like large shoe-boxes and were an old, proprietary technology introduced in 1996.

"We've not had an all-new platform for quite a few years, and we needed to provide a standard layout in terms of configuration," admitted Tom Joyce, vice president of storage platform marketing at EMC. The older CNS system will stay on EMC's price book at least through 2006, he said.

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The Celerra NSX delivers up to 300,000 NFS operations per second, and in a single system can cluster up to eight X-Blades. By comparison, Network Appliance Inc. can only cluster two filers together today. To grow beyond that, NetApp users have to buy a completely new filer. EMC has increased the file system size and file size in the NSX from 2 TB to 16 TB for a total capacity of 112 TB.

Software improvements

A new virtual file system technology simplifies the management of file systems as users' capacities grow, EMC claimed. This technology presents multiple independent file systems as a single, virtual file system for easier administration and control.

Right now this virtual namespace functionality only works within the Celerra, but EMC has a reseller deal with Rainfinity Inc. that enables the Celerra file system to span multiple data centers. EMC is also looking at global namespace technology, which would enable the Celerra to manage heterogeneous NAS devices. "EMC intends to do all three," Joyce said.

Today, Network Appliance OEMs NuView Inc.'s StorageX product that enables file virtualization across heterogeneous NAS devices.

The new Celerra software will also host Microsoft DFS Root to present multiple Windows file systems as a single virtual file system, which is useful for users managing large Windows shops.

Other software improvements include the Celerra Automated Volume Management, which, via the Celerra graphical user interface, lets users create system configurations based on predefined workload characteristics. This capability reduces planning and management tasks, EMC said.

The company has also integrated its Celerra FileMover application programming interface (API) with a new Centera API that allows users to migrate static data from the Celerra NAS system directly to the Centera archival device.

Additional Celerra NSX features include redundant hot-swappable components, dual control stations and dual power systems.

Pricing and configurations

The NSX systems will be available from EMC and its partners in May 2005. A four-X-Blade Celerra NSX system has a list price of $278,250. This configuration includes dual management stations, dual power systems, the CIFS protocol, EMC Celerra SnapSure for local replication, and EMC Celerra Manager for web-based management.

Competitive analysis

"The EMC/NetApp battle will increasingly be fought at the high end since the low end is being rapidly lost to Microsoft-based products, according to Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst of the Taneja Group. He added that NetApp will say it has the product it acquired from Spinnaker to compete against this, but users must go through a major fork lift upgrade to use this system.

"With the NSX product in the market, NetApp will feel mounting pressure to offer something at the high end fast ... This product will also put pricing pressure on them," Taneja said.

Products from smaller players such as Isilon Systems Inc., Panasas Inc. and Exanet Inc. are distributed file system-based products that can certainly scale to EMC's specification numbers, but each is targeted at a very specific market. "EMC will present NSX across the board, including financial services and therefore, will have an impact on the smaller players as well," Taneja said.

Network Appliance responded in typical fashion. "While EMC continues to play NAS catchup, NetApp is driving forward with unrivaled innovations such as RAID-DP, FlexVol, and FlexClone. The Celerra NSX appears to be a minor hardware upgrade to EMC's old Celerra CNS box, not a "game changing" product as the company claims," said Keith Brown, director of technology and strategy at NetApp.

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