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Bigger EMC XtremIO boxes, low-end VNXe expand all-flash portfolio

Flash played a big role in product launches at EMC World 2015 this week with upgrades to XtremIO and a new all-flash VNXe model.

LAS VEGAS -- EMC beefed up its all-flash products at EMC World 2015 by doubling the maximum capacity on its XtremIO platform and adding a low-end all-flash version of its VNXe storage array.

By bumping up its all-flash options, EMC is capitalizing on what the vendor sees as a strong move toward solid-state storage in the enterprise. EMC executives call XtremIO the most successfully selling system in company history, and project $1.2 billion in revenue in 2015.

EMC XtremIO 4.0 software enables 40 TB X-Brick arrays, doubling the maximum capacity of previous X-Bricks. Earlier X-Bricks came in 10 TB or 20 TB configurations, and EMC offers a 5 TB Starter X-Brick. EMC calls the 80 TB X-Brick, "The Beast." Customers can cluster eight X-Bricks (up from six) and 16 N-way active controllers (up from 12) for high availability.

An eight X-Brick cluster scales to 320 TB raw, and a 6:1 data reduction ratio would bring that to 1.9 PB per cluster. EMC claims an eight-node cluster can handle 200,000 read IOPS and less than one millisecond latency.

EMC Monday also added an all-flash version of its VNXe SMB unified storage platform. The all-flash VNXe3200 will be available in 2 TB, 3 TB and 7 TB configurations. EMC estimates a 3 TB VNXe3200 will sell for approximately $25,000. The 2U VNXe3200 has been available as a hybrid array with SSDs and hard disk drives since 2014.

According to Gartner's recent solid-state array market analysis, EMC led the all-flash market with 31.1% market share in 2014. Most of that came from XtremIO, although EMC does sell all-flash versions of other arrays. Pure Storage was second at 19%, and IBM third at 16%. No other vendor had more than 7% share.

That was a big jump for EMC from 11.1% in 2013, behind IBM (24.6%) and Pure Storage (17.1%). EMC began shipping XtremIO in November of 2013.

"We were probably a year late, but we designed a flash array for the future," said David Goulden, CEO of EMC's Information Infrastructure group, pointing out that XtremIO's data services such as deduplication and compression are always on-line.

EMC often competes against itself in flash deals because XtremIO customers might be looking at the vendor's other products. EMC estimates that one-third of XtremIO customers are moving workloads off of other EMC arrays.

"More than any other IT company of size, we're not afraid of disrupting ourselves," Goulden said. "If we don't disrupt ourselves in flash, somebody else will."

Customers weigh all-flash vs. hybrid arrays

EMC customers at the show said they carefully consider whether they need all flash or if hybrid arrays better fit their needs.

Eric Tomasello, director of infrastructure for New York-based healthcare insurance company EmblemHealth, said he started using XtremIO for VDI when the array was still in limited availability in late 2012. Tomasello said besides giving him a performance bump, XtremIO saves floor space compared to larger disk arrays. Tomasello said EmblemHealth also uses other EMC storage but he is weighing whether he should go all-flash.

"We're looking at if it makes sense to use XtremIO for general purpose storage," he said. "Flash is actually a way for us to lower cost. We have a large data warehouse with about 40 TB of data. I had to throw a significant amount of disk to get consistent performance. Now we have local flash cards dedicated to it. I'm wondering if I can eliminate four or five tiers in my data center with two X-Blocks, is that something we want to do?"

Dave McCandless, VP of IT for Oakland, Calif.-based cargo shipping firm Navis, said his company weighed all-flash when he purchased two VNX arrays and an Isilon array last year but determined the price was too high for his needs. Navis does have approximately 40% SSDs on its hybrid VNX 5400 and VNX 5600 systems. McCandless said the flash helps his company's developers build out applications.

"Our biggest challenge as far as speed is our software build process," he said. "We build a solution for customers that is meaty and requires a cumbersome build process. The real need for us was to speed up that process, so we want to make sure the build process was using flash."

XtremIO upgrades are non-disruptive this time

unlike with XtremIO 3.0, the 4.0 release can be upgraded non-disruptively with automatic rebalancing and no application downtime. Tomasello called the 3.0 upgrade the "biggest roadblock" for his XtremIO deployment, although he found EMC's suggested workaround of migrating virtual workloads with VMware Storage vMotion helped a lot.

"For us it was not that significant," he said. "I guess it was significant or people using bare metal. With Storage vMotion I didn't need to do anything overly complicated. We vMotioned from one LUN to another and were done. But that was the biggest roadblock."

Josh Goldstein, vice president of product marketing for EMC XtremIO, would not discuss roadmap issues, but hinted that the vendor would continue to pump up XtremIO capacity points. "We've taken something that was scarce [flash in storage], and made it abundant," he said. "People figure out how to use it. Nobody ever goes to Intel saying, 'can you take some cores out?'"

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