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EMC takes software-defined turn with VMAX3 storage refresh

EMC delivers on Project Liberty, which virtualizes VNX and says next up is Project Falcon, which will bring a software version of Data Domain.

LAS VEGAS -- Two years ago EMC hailed its strong move into software-defined storage by previewing ViPR virtualization and management software. At EMC World 2015 it has become clear that EMC's software-defined strategy goes far beyond ViPR.

EMC beefed up its VMAX3 storage hardware this week with software features, and also had software additions to its VNX and Data Domain platforms.

At EMC World on Monday, the vendor laid out a series of software integrations to VMAX3 high-end enterprise SAN array. The rollouts centered on cloud, improved data protection and storage management. Although EMC is not about to shed its origins as a hardware company, the emphasis on software integration mirrors customer preferences to consume more storage virtually, said Steve Manley, CTO of EMC's Core Technologies Division.

"The VMAX3 was a quantum leap forward for the VMAX platform.  When we launched it (in August 2014), it was easy to get absorbed in the new hardware. Everybody wanted to know about the number of nodes, the number of disks, the processors … but the exciting part for me is the software we developed for stitching together the big hardware and to be able to protect it, provision it and manage storage on it," Manley said.

He added that "customers aren't necessarily looking for me to provide them with just hardware anymore, and that will probably squeeze even more over time."

The following is an outline of the storage software enhancements EMC announced for VMAX this week:

ProtectPoint blends Data Domain dedupe, Recover Point replication features

EMC is extending its ProtectPoint for directly backing up data from primary storage, bypassing the need for traditional backup apps and media servers. ProtectPoint amalgamates the backup of EMC Data Domain EMC Data Domain backup and deduplication software and its Recovery Point replication software.

ProtectPoint builds on federated storage tiering of VMAX and uses Data Domain's multi-protocol support to enable storage to talk with CIFS, NFS, SMB file shares, Fibre Channel SAN arrays and virtual tape libraries. 

Manley said ProtectPoint integration addresses the embrace of "version replication" to ensure high availability storage and disaster recovery.

"Data Domain's challenge has always been that you feed it proprietary data that comes in frequently," he said. "RecoverPoint's challenge is that it's hard to do any sort of medium-term retention because you run out of space. We brought those two pieces of software together to converge backup and DR in a single platform. We don't believe that buying separate solutions makes a lot of sense."

EMC also rolled out FAST.X, an enhanced version of its Fully Automated Storage Tiering tool for automating tiered storage. It also launched EMC CloudArray for VMAX3, integrating the CloudArray product acquired from TwinStrata in 2014. CloudArray enables workloads to be moved between VMAX3 on-premises storage and cloud storage.

Service-level provisioning and "wildly more efficient snapshots"

EMC uses the Hypermax operating system -- a rebranding of its Enginuity code developed for EMC Symmetrix arrays -- to add a virtualization layer atop VMAX3. Hypermax runs applications in different storage containers on VMAX3, enabling a modular front-end NAS protocol that supports NFS and Microsoft SMB file shares.

A related feature is the ability to assign storage service levels to devices using EMC's service-level objective provisioning. The VMAX3 architecture uses software intelligence to analyze resources and automatically determine if sufficient storage is available.

The service-level provisioning enables "wildly more efficient snapshots"  for users, scaling to 256 snapshots per volume and linked snapshots to up to 1,024 target volumes, Manley said.

Project Falcon: Virtual Data Domain appliance slated for 2016 release

More software-defined storage is coming. EMC Monday made vVNX generally available. VVNX, previewed at EMC World 2014 as Project Liberty, is a software version of its midrange unified storage array. The vVNX runs on a VMware ESX hypervisor and enables most capabilities of VNX with a 4 TB capacity limit. It allows customers to create test and development environments based on VNX storage on industry-server standard hardware instead of a physical VNX system.

EMC Monday also announced Project Falcon, a virtual appliance of its Data Domain deduplication disk backup platform. The Data Domain virtual appliance would be aimed at remote offices and departments without storage expertise or limited resources.

"It's still early days for Falcon, but we are looking at ways to use containers on our storage systems to give customers more separation and more scale," Manley said. "It's not unreasonable to imagine that containers will become more important even for consuming storage in virtual form factors."

Manley said Project Falcon likely will become a reality at EMC World 2016.

EMC isn't the first down this road, though. Hewlett-Packard has VSA for StoreOnce and Quantum also has a virtual deduplication appliance. But Jason Buffington, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group who specializes in data protection, said Project Falcon will likely prompt other backup deduplication vendors to follow suit.

"Based on EMC's [market] dominance, I would expect that as their Project Falcon comes to market, it will also educate the broader market on the compelling-ness of virtualized dedupe devices within organizations of all sizes -- and that's a good thing," Buffington said.

EMC president of products and marketing Jeremy Burton said the vendor plans to eventually offer all of its storage platforms as virtual appliances.

Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

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