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EMC upgrades Symmetrix storage line

EMC has upgraded its 11-year-old Symmetrix storage system which now pushes the envelope in terms of capacity ? 70 terabytes. But competitor Hitachi claims it isn't much more than a facelift.

Enterprise storage firm EMC Corporation has upgraded its 11-year-old Symmetrix storage array family, pushing capacity from 34TB to just under 70TB -- the industry's largest in a single box. But its competitor Hitachi Data Systems claims EMC is just reworking its aging architecture and is now falling behind on the technology curve.

Chuck Hollis, vice president of markets and products at EMC, makes a virtue out of Symmetrix's age, pointing to the fact that the very first model is still up and running at customer Sirius Software. By keeping the same architecture and operating environment in place, EMC says it has avoided typical storage practices of companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun, which, according to EMC, start over with incompatible new products every year or so and force their customers to do the same.

But Ron Franz, of HDS service sales support, says there's a fundamental bottleneck within Symmetrix. "It's still a shared-bus architecture and everything still has to go through the bus." In June 2000, Hitachi revamped its own architecture using a 6.4GB per second internal-switch fabric architecture in place of a shared bus. EMC's quad bus has a maximum throughput of 1.4GBps, though the company is now well ahead on capacity. Hitachi currently offers a maximum capacity of 37TB raw storage.

While Franz speculates that EMC will be forced to replace its shared-bus architecture in the not-too-distant future, Hollis disagrees. "The current quad-bus architecture is nowhere near close to being taxed these days, even in demolition-derby envelope benchmarks," he said. So does EMC have plans for a fundamental architecture change? "If you mean 'over the next 20 years,' that would be hard to say with any certainty," he said. "If you mean 'in the next 18 months,' the answer is no ? not needed, not wanted or required by customers."

This week's announcement is about consolidation, Hollis said. Customers want to put as much information as possible in one place, so that they can cut down cost of ownership and improve connectivity options. The increased capacity comes courtesy of a new 181GB-drive technology, which EMC codeveloped with Seagate Technology.

Along with the capacity increases, EMC has upgraded the addressability of its Enginuity operating system environment to support up to 8,000 logical volumes. It has increased the number of processors from 48 to 80, and boosted the clock speeds from 266MHz to 333MHz. The company has also hidden an internal switch inside the Symmetrix boxes (supporting up to 96 ports), which it says is cheaper and easier to manage than external storage area networks, though they are still supported, as well.

Other upgrades include a more intelligent cache subsystem and support for the fiber-channel standard for mainframes, Ficon. It will also support geographically dispersed parallel systems, which is an IBM technology that enables the remote clustering of mainframes.

As a result of the changes, EMC has added three new family members to the Symmetrix 8000 line: the half-cabinet 4.3TB 8230 (replacing the full-cabinet 8430), the single-cabinet 17.3TB 8530 (replacing the three-cabinet 8730), and a new, high-end, three-cabinet model, the 8830, reaching 69.5TB of capacity.

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