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Users quit EMC over data replication

Two former EMC storage users said they switched vendors last year because of confusion and complexity within EMC's data replication portfolio.

Two former users of EMC Corp.'s storage said they replaced gear from EMC with products from other vendors last year because competitors offered simpler product packages for data replication, while EMC spent the year caught in a flurry of acquisitions that made its portfolio more confusing.

Both Integrated Systems Corp. (ISCorp) and Stephens Media Group, now Compellent Technologies Inc. and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) customers respectively, had multiple problems with EMC, according to their IT personnel, but the last straw for both was a struggle with replication software.

"We wanted to do replication over IP from our Fibre Channel Clariion CX300 at our primary site to our DR site," said Scott Rodenhuis, chief technology officer for ISCorp. The first stumbling block, according to Rodenhuis, was the need for a Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) converter to make EMC's Mirrorview or SANCopy replication software work with the older Clariion array.

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Rodenhuis said the second problem was that the quote EMC sent for adding data replication to the Clariion system, which included a required upgrade to the CX500 model, was out of his price range -- all told, by about $100,000. "It was very expensive, and it would have required the management of several different pieces to make it work," he said.

ISCorp went looking for another Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) that included replication over IP and found it in the form of Compellent's StorageCenter SAN product. The Clariion is still running, according to Rodenhuis, but has been relegated to Tier-2 storage, storing "any data that doesn't need the replication and ILM features we have in the Compellent SAN."

Compellent offers both these features as a single software package bundled in with its storage. This is the primary reason, according to Rodenhuis, that he never considered EMC's RecoverPoint heterogeneous replication software or the newer CX-3 Clariion systems, which added multiprotocol support in October.

Aside from bundled replication and automated, block-based data movement, Rodenhuis said ISCorp is using Compellent's built-in snapshots, for which he said there is no charge for capacity or frequency. The Compellent software allows him to set retention periods for different snapshots and will manage their migration or deletion automatically, according to Rodenhuis.

"EMC does offer these kinds of capabilities," he said, "but they all involve separate pieces and separate charges."

Meanwhile, Rodenhuis did admit that there are some capabilities he'd like to see from Compellent that EMC has already added to its portfolio, including deduplication and built-in encryption. But Rodenhuis said he is confident that Compellent will not only add features to its product, but will add them in a more integrated way than EMC. "Compellent's model is to build software features into their products instead of bringing them in through acquisitions," he said, adding that he'd also like to see Compellent come out with support for heterogeneous tiered storage.

'I was tired of talking about forklift upgrades.'

According to Chris Fredrickson, IT director for Stephens Media Group, a conglomerate that oversees over 30 newspapers in eight states, it was an abortive attempt at replication using EMC's SRDF software that sent him into the arms of NetApp.

The company had been an EMC customer since 1999, according to Fredrickson, when it bought its first Celerra system. The company bought a second Celerra SE SAN/NAS array in 2001 and a year later leased a Symmetrix 8430 array for added capacity and performance as its media properties grew.

Late in 2005, the company opened a disaster recovery site in Fort Smith, Ark., and wanted to send its Celerra SE array to the secondary site and replicate to it asynchronously using SRDF. In early 2006, Fredrickson said EMC told him that it would be possible to replicate data from the Symmetrix SAN to the SAN side of the Celerra SE.

"That's the only reason we bought SRDF, on their assurance we could use it with the Celerra," Fredrickson said.

Then, he recalled, EMC told Stephens Media that it would have to recertify the company's network. "The first time they tested our network, they claimed there was too much latency to do the replication," Fredrickson said. The Stephens Media staff pushed EMC to revisit the issue and about a month later, "[EMC] came back and said, OK, [the network is] fine," despite the fact that there was no change in his network equipment or configuration, he said. Fredrickson then started trying to replicate, but the first attempts failed.

"That's where we drew the line in the sand with EMC," Fredrickson said. He acknowledged that replicating a Symmetrix to a Celerra was an unusual arrangement, but said his goal all along was not to have to replace hardware or software completely when looking to change his environment. Eventually, however, Fredrickson said it became clear that totally replacing parts of his environment would be the only way to solve the replication problem.

By the time EMC acquired Kashya Inc. for heterogeneous replication, Fredrickson said any further attempts by EMC to sell into his shop were a lost cause. "We would still have had to rip and replace a great deal of our environment, according to EMC, which was always pushing a new box," he said. "I was tired of talking about forklift upgrades every time we needed a new feature."

With the NetApp FAS6030 filer the company installed six months ago, Fredrickson said, the company can now upgrade the filer head and controllers without migrating data off the underlying disk, and NetApp's bundled-in SnapMirror software allows him to replicate to a FAS270 filer in Arkansas, which is in line with his budget for disaster recovery. Fredrickson also said NetApp gave him an "aggressive" price on the 6030, to the tune of $300,000 less for hardware, software and maintenance over three years than he would have been spending with EMC.

Like Rodenhuis, Fredrickson said there are things he misses about EMC's products, including and especially more developed Fibre Channel multipathing, which is available in version 7.2.1 of NetApp's OnTap 7G operating system, just released in December.

"We don't have all of the details regarding this particular customer's configuration and can't comment on their experience specifically," said an EMC spokesman, in an email to "The vast majority of customers implementing Symmetrix, Celerra and SRDF for replication enjoy seamless operations."

Too much of a good thing?

According to experts, part of the issue for some users is that EMC currently has what amounts to an embarrassment of riches on its hands when it comes to data protection product offerings and their features and capabilities.

"EMC has a really broad storage product portfolio with several product lines relying on different underlying replication technologies," said Stephanie Balaouras, senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc. In data protection alone, Balaouras noted, EMC currently has RecoverPoint, SRDF and MirrorView in replication and disaster recovery; Legato and Avamar in the backup space; and Retrospect for the small and midsized business (SMB) market.

"It's a great portfolio with best of breed of technologies," she said. "But it does make it more complex for users to architect a data protection or disaster solution that incorporates several of these offerings."


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