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EMC limits Invista to big shops

EMC prices its new virtualization product high to ensure a measured rollout, but users don't see an urgent need for it today.

NEW ORLEANS -- EMC Corp. introduced its Invista network-based virtualization product at its Technology Summit in New Orleans Monday, but cautioned the audience of over 4,000 attendees that it's for Global 2000 shops only today.

"If you don't have 10 to 15 arrays, you're not going to use it," said Mark Lewis, executive vice president and chief development officer at EMC. "We want people to be interested, but not too interested." The product has less than 15 beta customers today.

Analysts said EMC's cautious introduction of this product is due to the nascent state of the market and the immaturity of the technology. "There is some interest in storage virtualization, but most customers are still kicking the tires … a measured rollout will enable EMC to incorporate early feedback before larger-scale deployments," said Dan Renouard, analyst with Robert. W. Baird & Co., in a note to investors.

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Invista, which will ship three months later than EMC anticipated, in the third quarter, is an out-of-band appliance that includes two components: a dual-node server cluster and a Fibre Channel (FC) switch. The server runs software from EMC that inspects every packet that travels from a host computer through the FC switch to the storage array. It grabs each packet, assigns it a unique identifier and classifies it so that it can be managed across a pool of heterogeneous storage resources.

According to EMC, the key application for this product is dynamic volume migration between unlike arrays for jobs, such as lease rollover, technology refreshes, data movement across tiers of storage or to respond to changing performance requirements.

It sounds like familiar turf for most IT shops, but because of Invista's high price tag -- it starts at $225,000 -- few users will even take a second look at it.

"Invista sounds great …There are lots of things we'd like to buy, but they are so ridiculously expensive, the Air Force isn't going to sacrifice an aircraft for a new kind of storage product," said Michael Acton, chief systems engineer for Lockheed Martin Corp.

Even users with petabytes (PB) of data aren't certain about the need for a product like Invista. Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS), for example, has approximately 7.6 PB of data on EMC storage but is doubtful it will be deploying Invista any time soon. "Most applications can tolerate a 30 minute downtime to rezone and recable … if you really want '5 9s' uptime, then you might need it," said Mattias Wallgren, storage manager for EDS in Sweden.

Others were wary of adding an abstraction layer into their production environments and then not being able to see what's going on. "Our production environment is well documented … if you start to move things from place to place, how do you keep track of it? It would be nice if the software could assist with change control," said Jeffrey ten Bosch, storage leader at Pfizer Ltd.

EMC's Lewis acknowledged that users will still need to "connect the dots and understand what's going to be impacted when something breaks." He added that virtualization is both "a gain and a hurt, but once you manage and understand it, the benefits are huge."

Understanding storage virtualization is still a big problem in the industry, largely because the debate over how to architect it continues to rage between the vendors. IBM has been selling its SAN Volume Controller appliance-based virtualization software for 18 months and claims to have about 1,000 deployments. Meanwhile, Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS) TagmaStore provides array-based virtualization, which it claims provides better performance than cracking packets in the network. According to Hu Yoshida, chief technology officer at HDS, this can only add latency in the network. EMC's Invista product adds a third approach to the market.

"We attribute the slow adoption of storage virtualization partly to customer confusion resulting from this debate," said R.W. Baird's Renouard, in his note to investors.

In the first half of 2006, EMC will introduce a lower priced model of Invista to sell through its channel. It's also planning a software-only product for nondisruptive migration for companies that don't require all the functionality of Invista, or perhaps can't afford it.

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