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EMC plays catch-up with Clariion

Clariion arrays now have support for both Fibre Channel and iSCSI in one box, as well as other features that competitors have been using against EMC for some time.

Six months after introducing all-new Clariion and Symmetrix products, EMC Corp. has announced some more incremental refreshes of its disk product lines. The updates include the ability to provide quality of service (QoS) performance throttling and support for Fibre Channel (FC) and iSCSI in a single Clariion. These features will help EMC eat up some lost ground between it and competitors, which have already begun baking in similar features to their midrange arrays over the last several months and in some cases, years.

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The new CX-3 20 and CX-3 40 arrays will now support FC and iSCSI within the same box; the largest model, the CX3-80, will not offer the feature -- EMC had not offered iSCSI as an option on its previous high-end Clariion, the CX700, either. Previously, the company offered iSCSI as an option for the Clariion boxes starting with the CX300i and CX500i in early 2005, as well as the CX-3 20i and CX-3 40i announced in April, but users had to choose whether to deploy the boxes as iSCSI or FC.

Between this release and the last, the boxes were given an iSCSI TCP/IP offload (TOE) card that is integrated into the core of the storage processor in parallel to the FC controller, with the same access to internal I/O and memory bandwidth that FC has. The new arrays do not have restriction on how much of the storage is assigned to IP or FC, but each model will only support up to 8 iSCSI ports.

The new arrays will also feature Navisphere QoS Manager (NQM), new software which allows users to throttle throughput on a LUN-by-LUN basis, setting bandwidth, throughput and response time thresholds according to time of day or user-customizable policies.

According to Andrew Waithaka, network systems manager for the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, his administrators have been able to set different bandwidth, throughput and response time minimum thresholds for six servers, each hosting different LUNs on a Clariion CX-3 20c, in his testing environment. "We're testing against a fairly contained environment," he said, "But we were most concerned with the array being able to maintain the throughput settings, which it has."

Waithaka said that his company plans to replace their current CX500i with CX-3 20s, as part of a plan to consolidate some of their 45 Windows servers using VMware. However, once the VMware consolidation is complete, the college could be looking at up to 20 or 30 VMs on one physical host, for which they would be using FC to quell concerns about performance. NQM, meanwhile, will allow him to create QoS for each machine according to the LUNs they own, and will allow him to create separate QoS rules for production and testing environments, Waithaka said.

The college will also be leaving at least some servers unconsolidated and attached to the IP SAN side of the array, Waithaka said. "I would like to virtualize as many [of my servers] as possible," he said, "But we're a small college with few resources, and so we might not be able to migrate them all -- and we prefer to get the cost savings of iSCSI whenever we can."

NAS, iSCSI and FC -- keeping up with NetApp

EMC has also updated its Celerra NAS systems with support for PCI Express and higher processing speeds, meaning that it's now possible to combine EMC NAS with FC and iSCSI in the new Clariion arrays. NetApp has been offering similar multiprotocol systems since 2003. Emerging competitors including 3PAR Inc., and Pillar Data Systems also offer this kind of functionality; with the OnStor NAS head, 3Par also offers NAS, and Pillar now supports NAS, FC and iSCSI within the same array as of an announcement last week.

Another beta tester, Tom Henson, infrastructure and tech systems manager for the Americas region at Molex, an electronics manufacturer based in Lisle, Ill., said that a FC/NAS-to-iSCSI system would probably be what his company would do with the new Clariion arrays.

"We would keep our Exchange and SQL databases and our higher-level applications on Fibre Channel," Henson said. "But move our file storage and shared file and print services to SATA disk through an iSCSI interface for headquarters and our sales offices."

However, Henson said, the company has yet to reach end-of-life with their current CX700 array, and won't be making a definite purchasing decision until that happens sometime next year.

Finally, with the new Flare 24 code to be released in December, a taskbar will be added to the Clariion Navisphere software that will require less steps for certain common operations -- for example, according to EMC, LUN creation and masking, which previously required 15 steps, would require 8 steps with the new taskbar; SnapView setup, which previously required 28 steps, would require 9. Simplicity of use is another area where competitors, especially newcomers, are beating up on EMC in their marketing.

Playing catch-up with startups

According to Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group, those with a big investment in EMC can now be assured EMC is keeping up with its rivals, especially new players in the market. "All of these big IT shops have strategic relationships with these big vendors," Taneja said. "If those big vendors continue to provide functionality at a reasonable price, they stay in the environment."

But, those who may be considering EMC against its competitors within a heterogeneous shop or during an RFP will find that EMC has kept current, but hasn't added much in the way of differentiation from the other players in the market yet.

"These are all important and necessary things for them to do to sustain their business, but it's not anything that's going to generate a billion dollars of new business for EMC," said Tony Asaro, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. Still, Taneja said, "It's not too little too late -- they're not outside the window of opportunity for bringing in these features… It's kind of a leapfrogging game," he said.

Symmetrix, CDL updates

New for Symmetrix is a scaled-down version, the Symmetrix DMX-3 950, meant to replace the Symmetrix DMX-800, announced in 2003, as an entry-level Symm. The new Symm will include one or two drive bays with a minimum of 32 to a maximum of 360 disks, and can scale up to 1 petabyte with two drive bays, according to Peter Lavache, EMC director, storage platforms product marketing, but it is not directly upgradeable to the bigger models of the Symmetrix.

"We think there are two different kinds of customers -- those who want to start small and scale up and those who want smaller deployments," Lavache said. "This box addresses the second group."

Why not just buy a Clariion for smaller deployments, especially since EMC has also just recently acquired Kashya Inc., which offers heterogeneous replication, meaning users could theoretically replicate between Symmetrix and Clariion at remote sites?

"We consider Kashya more of a midrange product without as many bells and whistles as SRDF," Lavache said -- EMC says Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF), the replication for the Symm, is optimized for high speed WAN links over long distances and multiple sites, while Kashya, rebranded RecoverPoint, "is… optimized for environments constrained by lower bandwidth WAN links." EMC also announced Symmetrix Management Console 5.3 which includes a new dashboard of "SRDF family state", for remote replication, which displays device and resource status at the device-group level, and another new feature which will allow users to monitor performance indicators cache usage and cycle time, according to user-defined policies and thresholds.

EMC has refreshed its Clariion Disk Library (CDL) products to incorporate PCI Express and 4 Gbps FC. The new VTLs also incorporate new Intel servers and Disk Library V3.0 software, which will allow for multi-system management, up to 64,000 virtual tape cartridges, and support for Symantec NetBackup 5.1 within the VTL similar to embedded Legato support EMC announced in April. The new VTLs will ship in November; list pricing begins at $180,000.

The new Symmetrix DMX-3 950, and updated Celerra NAS systems will begin shipping immediately. Clariion CX-3 20 and CX-3 40 arrays will begin shipping in November. List price starts at $33,000 for the Clariion line and Celerra list pricing begins at $50,000. Pricing for the DMX-3 950 begins at $250,000. Pricing for Navisphere Quality of Service Manager starts at $9,000.

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