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EMC unveils do-it-yourself Clariion

EMC's eighth-generation Clariion offers complete 4 Gbps support, but more importantly, provides self-installation and self-service features addressing a common user complaint.

EMC Corp. launched the eighth generation of its Clariion midrange storage arrays Monday, unveiling three new models that support 4 Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) throughout the system, scale up to 480 drives (239 terabytes [TB]), include self-installation and self-service features that give users more control over the box and the bill for maintaining it.

The new CX3-20, CX3-40 and CX3-80 models are the first midrange storage systems to support 4 Gbps FC end to end, meaning the disk drives, storage controllers, host bus adapters and switches all support the latest FC speed. Also new is PCI Express support, improving the internal bandwidth of the box.

"They didn't announce a sub-optimized system like the others did, so that the least common denominator [or slowest component] comes into play and constricts performance … they waited for all the pieces to support 4 Gbps and the result is a box that is balanced through and through," said Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst with the Taneja Group.

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As it turns out, EMC's lead on full 4 Gbps support was fleeting. LSI Logic Corp. also announced this week that its new midrange systems now support 4 Gbps throughout the system. LSI was the first to market with front-end 4 Gbps support a year ago, and Network Appliance Inc.'s new FAS6000 systems support 4 Gbps on the front end but not on the drives yet.

"In the grand scheme of things [4 Gbit] is not a differentiator that will really matter," Taneja said. "More interesting is the capability to replace any part myself and run it by myself.

The new Clariion products allow users to replace disk drives, power supplies, cooling fans and small form-factor pluggable optical transceivers on their own. A new Disk Replacement Utility wizard guides them through the process, checking each step to make sure data is protected, according to EMC. In the third quarter of 2006, the company will add processes and utilities to enable qualified customers and partners to perform their own installation of the CX3 arrays. "VARs [value-added resellers] can put together services on top of the Clariion without having to call in EMC and customers that want to can install the systems themselves," said Barry Ader, senior director of Clariion marketing at EMC.

"It's great to see EMC encouraging and enabling end-user self-service," said William Hurley, senior analyst with the Data Mobility Group. "It allows the customer to decide how they want to buy into service … In the European market in particular, users like to manipulate the box themselves."

This view was echoed by a systems administrator who spoke with recently at EMC's user show in Boston. "I wish they had the option to let me replace parts myself -- just send me the part," said David Gutschow, systems administrator for James Madison University. "Right now, they send a CE [consulting engineer] down to do it for us." Futhermore, EMC announced a second level of support, 9 hours/5 days a week, for next business day on-site response. This is less expensive than its 24/7, four-hour response service, although the company didn't break out pricing. The company extended its standard Clariion warranty from two to three years.

Caution mixing 2 Gbps and 4 Gps disk drives

The new Clariions can intermix 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps FC disk drives and 2 Gbps low-cost FC (LC/FC) disk drives in the same array. A light on the front of the box provides a visual representation of what drive speeds are running inside the box to avoid misconfiguration. "This is so that you don't put a 2 Gig drive in a 4 Gig loop, which would make that drive interoperable," Ader said.

Customers using SATA drives on existing Clariion arrays can move those into the new CX3 series. EMC's virtual logical unit number (VLUN) technology, available for about a year, enables online movement of data from 2 Gbps to 4 Gbps drives or 2 Gbps LC/FC drives within the array. Additionally, a metaLUN feature lets users create a LUN that spans multiple RAID groups and then expands the size of the LUN dynamically when additional capacity is needed.

Chips are down

The new arrays are still two-board systems, which won't be much of a comfort for Paul McMurray, storage manager for Zurich Financial Services, a division of Farmer's Insurance Group. They have deployed six CX700s over three data centers, as well as a handful of CX600s, 500s and 300s spread over those sites. Combined with the Symmetrix 1000, 2000 and 3000, McMurray says Zurich Financial has almost a petabyte of EMC storage.

"I'd be looking for them to add processors. Right now, there are just two in every model -- we're looking for them to possibly double their number of connections for better performance," McMurray said in a recent interview with SearchStorage.

On the software front, EMC SnapView, MirrorView and SAN Copy software works across all three new models, unlike the low end of the previous generation that did not support all Clariion software. EMC says it has also improved the fault detection, isolation and error-correction functions in the product by eliminating some of the bridges between the processors, which added latency.

The CX3-20 scales from 365 GB, for $27,000 to 59 TB and supports 128 hosts. The CX3-40 scales up to 119 TB, supports 128 hosts and starts at $52,000. And the CX3-80 scales up to 239 TB, supports 256 hosts and pricing starts at $101,000. All models are shipping now directly from EMC or through its channel, including Arrow Nroth American Computer Products, Avnet, Dell Inc., Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Unisys.

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