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EMC releases first version of FAST for automated tiered storage

FAST automates the migration of LUNs between tiers of Flash, Fibre Channel and SATA disk, but sub-LUN level migration and support for thin provisioning are still at least six months out.

EMC Corp. today began shipping the automated tiered storage capabilities it first revealed in April, and laid out its roadmap for the technology that the vendor claims could eventually eliminate the need for Fibre Channel storage.

EMC first promised FAST when it brought out its new Symmetrix V-Max enterprise disk arrays eight months ago. As of today, FAST is available for for V-Max, Clariion midrange SAN systems and Celerra NAS.

The first version doesn't do all EMC claimed it would do back in April. Version 1 of FAST enables automatic LUN migration between tiers of Flash, Fibre Channel and SATA storage according to user-set policy. Support for more sophisticated features such as block-level migration and thin provisioning are planned for version 2, due around the third quarter of 2010.

 The initial version of FAST "lays the groundwork" for version 2, EMC product manager of field marketing Scott Delandy said.

FAST migration, monitoring, and multiple tiers

FAST 1 includes a new utility within array management consoles to help administrators discover the available tiers and add policies for migrating data between them. EMC's performance monitoring tools can also show a "heat map" of contention in the system for back-end disks. This first release also includes a new wizard that will assess the existing storage system for efficiencies that can be gained with more tiered storage according to either performance or cost optimization goals.

Customers can theoretically create up to 256 different tiers according to RAID level, drive speed (10,000 or 15,000 RPM Fibre Channel), or drive type. Admins can assign multiple storage groups to the same tiering policy. They can also set the percentage of the storage group's capacity that can reside on any tier – for example, limiting the amount of data on Flash storage to 10% of the total capacity. These percentages can be set to add up to over 100%, so a customer who wants no more than 10% of the capacity migrated to Flash while allowing as much of the capacity to live in SATA as possible can set Flash to 10% and SATA to 100%. Because migration uses CPU and other resources in the array, customers also have granular controls over when window data collection and migration can occur.

 Will FAST spur SSD adoption?

Delandy says FAST 2 will operate at the block level rather than the LUN level, providing finer-grained tiered storage support that experts say is necessary for effective solid-state drive management (SSD). FAST 2 will add support for thin provisioned volumes, which requires block-level support. Delandy said the code for block-level awareness of access to the machine has already been built into V-Max and the CX4, but EMC is ironing out final wrinkles in reporting, analysis, chargeback and other management tools surrounding it.

"We learned a lot when we first entered the Flash market," he said. "If we had it to do over, we would've spent more time thinking about use cases. Just coming out and saying 'we have a drive that's really really fast' didn't really help us out of the gate."

Gartner Inc. estimates the total enterprise SSD deployment for the year at about 280,000 units. Meanwhile, EMC's Flash supplier STEC revealed last month that EMC will carry over more than half of its 2009 inventory of Flash drives into 2010.

Customer wants migrations without pain

Customers at this year's EMC World were wary of automation features as they were being previewed, fearing a loss of control over management in their data centers. EMC representatives said they are addressing those fears, in part, by releasing FAST with an optional user approval process prior to every migration.

One storage administrator for a major financial institution still professes concern about FAST because of his experience with a previous feature for Symmetrix DMX3 and DMX4 models called SymOptimizer. SymOptimizer would lock the entire frame during migrations, meaning "no other administrative activity can take place while the data is being moved," and the process took 36 hours in one instance, the admin wrote in an email to SearchStorage. He asked that his name and company not be disclosed because of policies prohibiting him from representing it in the press.

"I've been assured by EMC that the FAST auto tiering software in their V-Max storage frame only places locks on the devices that are involved in the data swap (not the entire storage frame), but I have my doubts that it will be as painless as they claim," he wrote. "I'm reserving judgment until I see it in action."

Beyond version 2: compression, dedupe, spin-down, and cloud

Brian Gallagher, senior vice president and general manager for Symmetrix, says the ultimate goal is to incorporate policies into FAST that also automate migration to tiers of storage with data deduplication, potentially incorporating IP from this year's acquisition of Data Domain. After that, policy-based migration to spin-down disk and ultimately, data deletion with application integration, are planned on the FAST roadmap heading into 2011. He said automated migration between disparate arrays – from a Symm to a Clariion, for example – are future possibilities. FAST could eventually allow organizations to set up SANs with SSDs for its most demanding applications and SATA for the rest, removing the need for Fibre Channel drives.

Is EMC behind the competition?

EMC competitor Compellent Technologies Inc. already offers automated block-level data migration between tiers of storage, including between tiers of Flash and conventional hard disks. Storage software vendor Symantec Corp. Monday added intelligent tiering capabilities for SSDs to its Veritas Storage Foundation management software. 3PAR Inc. has also had the ability to nondisruptively migrate volumes between storage devices through its native storage virtualization layer, and Monday added policy-based management for that feature. Startups Avere and StorSpeed are also entering the market with automated migration features between Flash and disk devices.

Wikibon analyst David Vellante pointed out that Compellent performs migration in batch jobs, while EMC's FAST will offer realtime or near-realtime migration as well as "knobs" to control the migration for higher-end users. Still, while EMC has been talking about FAST for most of the last year and won't have block-level tiered storage migration for at least another six months, "Compellent's technology has been proven already in the market," Vellante said.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte said it's more important for EMC to beat its enterprise array competitors Hitachi Data Systems and IBM with automated tiering than midrange system vendor Compellent or other newcomers. "EMC is still very influential in the enterprise space, so even though it may not have all the desired functionality on day one, there is a level of trust that it will be coming," he said. "EMC also competes mainly with HDS and IBM – of the major manufacturers, [EMC is] the first to come out with this."

One of EMC's arrays is getting more advanced functionality this month. Celerra will be able to perform file-level migrations to tiers of cloud storage using file-level FAST. EMC representatives say they are planning a convergence of Clariion and Celerra next year, including unified management tools and joint integration with other tools like RecoverPoint and PowerPath.


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