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EMC Unity: Redesign or rehash?

EMC unveils three all-flash systems at EMC World 2016, including new midrange Unity platform that draws fire from smaller competitors.

LAS VEGAS -- In line with its claim that 2016 is the year of all-flash for primary storage, EMC disclosed three new all-flash systems this week at EMC World 2016.

EMC World kicked off with the launch of the EMC Unity midrange storage platform with all-flash and hybrid versions. EMC also extended the DSSD D5 shared all-flash array for high-performance database and analytics. Customers can now place two DSSD D5 shared flash arrays in a single rack and stripe data between them to double the IOPS, bandwidth and capacity -- and price.

During Wednesday's general session, EMC snuck in a preview of an all-flash Isilon clustered NAS array, Project Nitro. Chirantan "CJ" Desai, president at EMC's emerging technology products division, said Nitro will scale to 400 nodes, 100 PB of capacity and 1.5 TB per second of throughput. It is scheduled to begin shipping in 2017. Isilon is the last of EMC's primary storage platforms to have an all-flash version.

The new all-flash systems join EMC's XtremIO and VMAX All Flash as EMC's flash-only primary storage platforms.

EMC Unity draws fire from competitors

Unity will replace the VNX and VNXe as EMC's midrange storage platform. There are four Unity models: the 300F, 400F, 500F and 600F. On the high end, the Unity 600F can scale to 1,000 drives in a cluster and 256 GB of memory per array. The low-end Unity 300F has 48 GB of memory and is available with 4 TB of raw and 2.2 TB of usable storage for around $18,000. The systems are also available in hybrid configurations.

Chris Ratcliffe, senior vice president at EMC's core technologies, said the system's new HTML5 user interface was a design priority and the Unity outperforms the VNX platform. Like the VMAX All Flash, Unity lacks data reduction -- an important feature for flash because it allows customers to maximize expensive solid-state drive capacity. Ratcliffe said EMC will add inline compression to Unity later this year. No deduplication is planned.

Unity will replace the VNX and VNXe as EMC's midrange storage platform.

"This will supplant the VNX," Ratcliffe said. "It's a ground-up redesign. The design team spent a lot of time on the UI, and let's face it, great designed UIs and storage companies don't always go together."

EMC Unity all-flash systems hold up to 25 3D TLC SSDs, in 400 GB, 1.6 TB and 3.2 TB capacities. A fully loaded system can hold 80 TB in a 2U box. EMC plans to offer 15 TB SSDs in Unity later this year.

Like the VNX, EMC Unity is a unified block and file storage system. EMC claims Unity has been given a new transactional file system that helps distinguish it from the VNX.

EMC executives at the conference hold up Unity and other new products as proof that EMC is continuing to innovate while waiting to become part of Dell Technologies. They also claim EMC will continue to innovate following the close of the $67 billion acquisition. However, the Unity release has brought a flood of criticism from smaller competitors saying the storage giant is merely repackaging old VNX technology.

"EMC is underscoring the demand for flash, but they've missed the mark by not providing features that are table stakes for any modern all-flash array," Nimble Storage vice president of corporate development Dan Leary said. "All-flash arrays without dedupe and compression will struggle in the marketplace."

All-flash array pioneer Pure Storage vice president of marketing and product management Matt Kixmoeller also criticized EMC for lack of data reduction on the VMAX All Flash and Unity. In a blog post, he wrote: "EMC would have us believe that we can modernize by retrofitting 20-year-old architectures with all-flash. Can you modernize through retrofit? Fundamentally, it just doesn't compute."

Tintri co-founder and CTO Kieran Harty called Unity "the same old LUN-based architecture with a shiny new UI. It's more lipstick on the VNX pig. Organizations need storage specifically built for their virtualized applications."

Guy Churchward, president of EMC's core technologies, called the claims that EMC Unity is a VNX rehash, "complete rubbish."

"This has no bearing or relationship with the traditional VNX product," Churchward said. "This is built from the ground up, completely different. The file system, GUI, this is not a rehash of anything we already have. This was a bifurcated team working on a new code base for three years."

'All-in on all-flash'

EMC customers at the conference said they welcome all-flash arrays, regardless of the platform. John Grieco, vice president of IT for Boston-based Partners Healthcare Systems, said the hospital system uses XtremIO to run its Epic Electronic Heath Record software. Grieco said Partners deployed a back-end flash system that allows patient records to be collected from Apple iPads at hospital "welcome kiosks," to eliminate manual data entry. The records are stored on XtremIO storage and the information follows the patients as they go through the system.

"We're all-in for all-flash," Grieco said.

Octavian Rotaru, technical architecture of international communications and entertainment services firm Amdocs, said his company is using XtremIO and bought a flash-only VMAX before EMC released the VMAX All Flash. He said Amdocs reaps great performance benefits from having a flash-only tier.

"We've been doing it for over a year," Rotaru said. "We get predictable results. I know my data will also have low latency and I will get the performance I need when I need it for online applications and systems that run in real time. This type of data is not friendly to tiered storage. With all-flash, we eliminate the bottleneck and response time is usually under one millisecond."

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