EMC World 2013: EMC ViPR has vendor on software-defined storage route

EMC ViPR, the vendor's software-defined storage technology, is designed to manage heterogeneous storage as one pool while adding cloud features.

LAS VEGAS -- EMC World 2013 opened today with the launch of EMC ViPR, the company's software-defined storage technology that combines storage virtualization and cloud management.

The EMC ViPR is the first step of the vendor's long-term software-defined storage strategy that EMC executives talked about at their Strategic Forum in March. ViPR -- which installs as a virtual appliance -- will be available to customers in the second half of 2013, according to Chris Ratcliffe, vice president of marketing for EMC's Advanced Software Division.

ViPR will allow customers to see storage across heterogeneous storage arrays as one pool. Ratcliffe said the initial version will support all EMC storage arrays and several NetApp arrays. Future editions will support other major vendors' storage, he noted, as well as commodity low-cost systems.

The EMC ViPR architecture includes a controller (control plane) and data services (data plane). The control plane provides storage management functions such as provisioning and migration across the pool. Data services are provided by each underlying array, but customers, partners and other array vendors can write to APIs to take advantage of technologies such as object storage.

The first ViPR release will include object data services that are compatible with object storage APIs from Amazon S3, OpenStack Swift and EMC Atmos.

"The consumer can push data or consume data as objects, but underneath we'll store it as a file system," said Vikram Bhambri, senior director of product management for EMC's Advanced Software Division. "But we also flip the counter and give you the capability to access those objects as files."

Bhambri said this allows ViPR to support objects in applications that use traditional file systems without changing those applications.

"And by putting object and file together, people can start to move toward cloud-based applications without making additional investments," he said.

The object services will work with EMC VNX, Isilon and Atmos arrays at the start. EMC plans to add broader array support, and to deliver other storage services through ViPR.

Bhambri said ViPR sits in the data path for object storage, and in the control path for file and block storage. "This is so we don't impact any performance," he said.

EMC ViPR will have a Hadoop Distributed File System data service that allows customers to perform data analytics across all its storage systems. It will also use VMware APIs to appear as an array within VMware vSphere.

ViPR installs as a virtual appliance outside the array. Ratcliffe said ViPR can support 250 VNX arrays in one pool of storage with one virtual machine (VM), and a three-VM configuration can manage 400 physical arrays.

Ratcliffe said ViPR is not an acronym. "A person might say it stands for 'virtualization platform re-invented,' but we just like the name," he said. "We're not saying it stands for anything"

ViPR has been two years in development under the code name "Project Bourne." The ViPR team is part of EMC's Advanced Software Division headed by Amitabh Srivastava,who developed the operating system for the Windows Azure cloud and led Microsoft's server and cloud division before joining EMC in February 2011.

Ratcliffe said the EMC ViPR architecture was developed for a service provider environment, and it will add cloud features such as multi-tenancy, metering and chargeback. But he said it will also work as a broad storage management tool, particularly for customers who feel their storage environment is too siloed.

Invista revisited?

EMC World attendees will have questions about ViPR, both from a technology and a business perspective. Is decoupling data from the data path the best way to achieve achieve storage virtualization? Will EMC push software that will enable customers to get the same features from commodity hardware as they can get from a seven-figure VMAX array? Why do customers need EMC to do that when the capability is already available in products such as DataCore's SANSymphony-V?

EMC has walked down the storage virtualization road before, but with little success. It launched Invista -- a switch-based virtualization product -- in 2005 to compete with Hitachi Data Systems' storage virtualization arrays and IBM's network-based SAN Volume Controller. But Invista quietly disappeared without gaining much traction in the market.

"There is a bit of déjà vu here," said Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst for Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group. "My first impression was they've taken mothballs off Invista and embellished it with multi-tenancy, a self-service portal and added NetApp as a foreign box to support. But they're really bringing in new technologies that have happened since Invista, especially everything to do with the cloud. They're trying to present it as software-defined storage."

Taneja said he's not sold on ViPR yet. He's skeptical of the software-defined storage tag, mainly because the term is still being defined. But he also questions the commitment the EMC sales teams will make to ViPR.

"Based on what I've seen, I can't say EMC is doing software-defined storage," Taneja said. "It will take a lot more before the customer will buy into that. It's a step in the right direction, but it will take 12 months to see if EMC really means it and how much teeth they'll put into it. What will the VMAX guys do and will the Isilon guys be happy?

"To be fair, this is much more than Invista," he continued. "ViPR can play a significant role for EMC's customers, but my advice to EMC is 'Don't call it software-defined storage because that insults my intelligence.'"

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