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EMC overhauls ControlCenter

It's been two years coming, but EMC ControlCenter 6.0 promises some major improvements, including a simpler user interface and consolidated reporting.

EMC Corp. will announce today a major overhaul of its ControlCenter storage resource management software, a move that is expected to bring long overdue improvements -- and some possible complications -- to the world's largest storage infrastructures.

EMC ControlCenter (ECC) is installed in close to 8,000 user sites worldwide to monitor and report on the utilization and performance of storage systems, mainly Symmetrix DMX arrays from EMC. The upgrade to the software, ECC 6.0, is at least two years late according to Gartner Inc., but addresses significant flaws in the product.

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"It's been a long time coming, but they've performed open heart surgery on it," said Dave Russell, vice president of storage technologies and strategies at Gartner. "They've struck a good balance between feature improvements and fixing the interface to make it more task-orientated and less of an Easter egg hunt." Older versions of the software required vast amounts of knowledge and knob-twisting on behalf of the user in order to get useful data out of ECC. "It was like Home Depot: The part you are seeking is there, but good luck finding it," Russell said.

EMC's senior vice president of resource management, Chris Gahagan, explained that ECC evolved out of multiple different products that were bolted together. EMC acquired SoftWorks, Astrum Software Corp. and Prisa Networks and other companies, for various reporting and monitoring capabilities, but each had its own database repository, data collection mechanism and user interface -- and none of these were integrated. This was a major cause of frustration for users.

"The reporting for provisioning and for performance were measured differently, so you'd get different numbers, and it was difficult to rely on this information," said Anne Fisher, storage consultant with British Telecom (BT), a large EMC shop.

According to Gahagan, ECC 6.0 fixes this issue with a single database repository and consolidated agents. "We've gone from four repositories and a handful of agents to one SQL [database] instance and a unified GUI around look and feel and use cases … The features were not in the context of how users did their job," Gahagan said. Now, host and file agents have been merged, and instead of digging around for information from ECC, users can get high-level data for initial analysis or use a new wizard-driven query builder for more detailed reporting. EMC has also opened up access to the central reporting database, so that data can be imported into other data stores for advanced reporting.

One of the biggest concerns among existing users is how disruptive the upgrade will be. "We'll wait for someone else to go first," BT's Fisher said. EMC claims that for users of ECC 5.2, the upgrade will be nondisruptive. Gahagan said more that 80% of the installed base is running 5.2, while Gartner's Russell said, according to his estimates it's more like 60%. "It's going to be more challenging if you're on previous versions," Gahagan admitted. "5.1 won't coexist with 6.0; The upgrades will need to be done in parallel, which makes timing more critical."

Improved VMware management

Other notable improvements in ECC 6.0 include better support for VMware. In previous versions of ECC, there was no way to see what physical storage VMware virtual machines were connected to or what multipathing was in place. "We've reconnected the link that virtualization breaks," said Jon Siegal, product marketing manager for resource management at EMC. Users can view properties, capacity and usage information for an ESX Server, as well as corresponding virtual machines, and mask and zone storage to ESX Servers. A free space view will show what storage has been allocated to VMware servers and what is still unused.

Lastly, EMC has expanded ControlCenter platform support to include Hitachi Data Systems storage and expects to include IBM on this list later this year. ECC 6.0 supports SMI-S 1.1, signaling a greater effort by EMC to coexist in heterogeneous environments.

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