EMC VMAXe looks to power private and public storage clouds

EMC officially launches its Symmetrix VMAXe, pitching it as enterprise-grade storage for private storage clouds and public cloud service providers.

EMC Corp. officially launched the Symmetrix VMAXe today, a scaled-down version of its VMAX enterprise storage array. EMC VMAXe is aimed at organizations that use server virtualization with plans to move to a private storage cloud, as well as IT service providers offering public cloud services.

EMC has tried to keep the VMAXe under wraps until today, but word leaked out last month of the pared-down system that uses a different version of the VMAX Enginuity operating system, a different software package than the VMAX and also lacks mainframe connectivity. The VMAXe began shipping in early June.

EMC is trying to use the VMAXe to move into market territory now occupied by Hewlett-Packard’s 3PAR, IBM’s XIV and other large enterprise SAN arrays that aren't built to connect to mainframes. Many 3PAR and IBM XIV customers are Web 2.0 users and IT service providers offering cloud services.

“There are all sorts of customers,” said Fidelma Russo, EMC’s senior vice president for the enterprise storage group. “We wanted to make the VMAX architecture more accessible to this new breed of customer, especially those that are starting to deploy applications to the cloud.”

The Symmetrix VMAXe storage system is a tailored version of the VMAX, offering a tradeoff in price-performance, features and functions, said Terri McClure, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

“I’d expect this to go head-to-head with 3PAR and XIV,” McClure said. “They don’t have mainframe support. They're targeted at highly virtualized environments and they can deal with unpredictable performance and scalability. There's room for EMC to shoehorn this in the middle [of VMAX and VNX]. There are customers who don’t need mainframe support but need the ability to scale performance and responsiveness to unpredictable workloads.”

The VMAXe is the lowest end of EMC’s Symmetrix VMAX platform but a higher-end system than its VNX midrange unified storage family. According to EMC sales-training documents, the vendor has instructed its sales force to position the VMAXe as an “entry point for customers seeking to scale, with multi-controller architectures and enterprise RAS [reliability, availability and service] capabilities.”

Hewlett-Packard acquired 3PAR for $2.35 billion last year and IBM bought XIV in 2008. In both cases, those vendors picked up product lines they position as for high-end enterprise but lack mainframe connectivity.

Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT Inc., said EMC VMAXe’s price and performance should be a good competitive match for 3PAR and XIV.

“Instead of paying $2.35 billion for 3PAR, EMC has taken existing technology, applied some elbow grease and come up with something competitive,” he said. “This new box provides all the traditional Symmetrix benefits but you can start smaller. You get all the benefits of a high-end performance system but you're getting a smaller, easier-to-manage system.”

The starting price for a VMAXe configured with one engine is $200,000.

The VMAXe uses a special build of the Enginuity operating system and is 100% virtually provisioned -- EMC’s version of thin provisioning. It supports FAST VP automated tiering software and ships factory configured with a base software bundle that includes TimeFinder for VMAXe for cloning and RecoverPoint splitter instead of SRDF for remote replication. Open Replicator and Open Migrator software is also available for moving data from competitive arrays onto the VMAXe.

EMC claims VMAXe can install in less than four hours, and that 1 TB of storage can be provisioned in less than three minutes. The VMAXe isn't upgradable to the VMAX.

“This is a newly engineered system,” EMC's Russo said. “This has been engineered from the ground up with new hardware and new engine code. If you buy a VMAXe, you can’t change out the engine and upgrade processors.”

Differences between EMC VMAXe and VMAX

The VMAXe hardware uses a quad-core engine while the VMAX uses a six-core engine. A VMAXe system has four integrated system bays and two storage bays. Each system bay can handle up to one engine and 150 drives, while each storage bay can hold up to 180 drives, Russo said. Maximum configuration for an EMC VMAXe is a total of 960 drives; the VMAX supports eight engines and 2,400 drives.

Among other differences:

  • VMAXe has 96 GB of memory cache per engine compared to VMAX’s maximum of 128 GB
  • VMAXe has 64 Fibre Channel (FC) and 32 Ethernet ports, while VMAX supports twice as many of each
  • VMAXe scales to 1.3 PB usable capacity vs. VMAX’s 2 PB

In addition, VMAXe comes with pre-selected storage tiering configurations. A single-tier system consists of all 450 GB 15,000 rpm Fibre Channel drives; a two-tier system comes with 97% 2 TB SATA drives and the rest 4 Gbps FC 200 GB Flash drives; and a three-tier system has 65% SATA, 32% Fibre Channel and 3% Flash. The system’s host connectivity options include 8 Gbps Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and 10 GbE iSCSI, and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

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