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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Enterprise Storage Heats up Again !

Once you spend any time inside the storage marketplace, you'll come to appreciate there are many segments and subsegments.
Symmetrix-vmax-10The need to store information is ubiquitous -- the approaches are not.

Sit down and attempt to segment the storage marketplace, and you'll quickly end up with a fairly complicated model.
One familiar category is what is imprecisely called "enterprise storage" or sometimes "tier 1" -- the storage that supports the enterprise's most critical applications.

These are no-compromise environments that demand the best in predictability: performance, availability, recoverability and so on.

A subsegment of this market appears to be heating up very quickly: the entry-level enterprise-class storage array.

EMC has its very successful VMAX 10K. Hitachi has recently offered the HUS VM. And HP has invested heavily in enhancing 3PAR in this segment. IBM, NetApp, et. al. really don't play in this game, despite what their aspirational marketing might say.

So -- one has to ask -- why is this particular subsegment of a rather familiar storage landscape becoming popular all at once?

And -- of course -- what is EMC doing about it?

What Makes Enterprise Storage Different

Since no one governs the use of the term, you'll see it applied to all sorts of storage products. I’m a bit more demanding: just because someone uses a storage product in an enterprise doesn't make itenterprise storage in my book.
Think consolidation of many demanding enterprise workloads, with an iron-clad requirement for predictability. Superior performance, even under duress. The ability to withstand multiple component failures. Sophisticated replication at scale. Advanced management capabilities. And so on.

Historically, these mission-critical applications ran on dedicated physical servers, but that's changed as well -- the preference is quickly becoming virtual-first, which introduces even more demanding requirements into the environment.

From an architectural perspective, it's hard to claim to be an enterprise-class storage array if you only have two storage controllers. Why? If the first one fails over to its twin, you're looking at a 50% performance degradation. While that might be acceptable in many environments; it's unacceptable in the most demanding. So let's presume multi-controller designs as at least one of the defining characteristics.

So why are smaller (and more cost-effective!) versions of these multi-controller arrays becoming so darn popular?

The Challenges Are The Same Everywhere

If you're a bank, or a telco, or any other large-scale operation, there are a handful of applications that keep you in business. Bad IT days are to be avoided at all reasonable costs. If you're operating in, say, one of the western economies, you're probably operating a decent scale -- and can justify full-blown implementations of these storage architectures.

But let's say you're doing business in China, or Brazil, or the Middle East. The business requirements are still the same, but you probably have a lot less capacity to deal with. And, indeed, there's surprisingly strong demand for these entry-level enterprise-class arrays outside the western economies.
But there's more at play here ...

A Longer Term Perspective Emerges

I've seen storage buying habits evolve now for almost 20 years, and -- not surprisingly -- a lot of storage gets sold in response to a specific requirement.

Here's what we need for SAP. Here's what we need for email. Sure, there's some opportunistic capacity sharing going on, but it's not the main thought.
ConsolidationDoing storage this way means that your landscape will grow willy-nilly over the years, and at some point there's a forcing function to consider a more consolidated approach, which motivates the customer to think in term of a smaller number of bigger arrays.

Of course, going to that sort of consolidated storage environment isn't the easiest IT project in the world ...
I think there are now enough intelligent enterprise IT buyers out there who have seen this movie before, and want to avoid it if possible.

As a result, they're willing to pay a small premium for an enterprise-class storage architecture that starts at reasonable size, but can expand to accommodate dramatic growth in application requirements, number of applications, performance, protection, availability, etc.
They want to start out on the right foot, so to speak.

Now, we here at EMC don't want to be caught napping when the market moves, so we targeted this specific space last year with the VMAX 10K. It’s been surprisingly successful. But, since then, both Hitachi and HP have gotten into the game.

So we need to bring more game.

Introducing The New VMAX 10K
VMAX-10KNot one to rest on our laurels, there's now a new member of the VMAX family to consider -- a significantly enhanced version of the 10K.

More performance. More functionality. Aggressive price. And it's a VMAX.

I think it's going to do extremely well in this segment.

VMAX 10K At A Glance
Having been around this business for so long, I continue to be amazed at just how far these technologies have evolved.
Case in point: the "baby" VMAX 10K array is fairly impressive in its own right:

  • one to four storage engines (that's a total of eightcontrollers)
  • up to 512 GB of storage cache
  • up to 1,560 drives and 64 ports, max 1.5 PB usable capacity
  • can start as small as a single storage engine and 24 drives
Plus, of course, all the rich software that's integral to the VMAX: Enginuity, SRDF, FAST VP, et. al.
So, with that as our baseline -- what's new?

2X Performance Bump

Nice, but where does this particular claim come from?
Slide6A bunch of little things, and a few big ones -- the use of 2.8 GHz Xeon Westmere Intel processors, which now deliver 12 cores @ 2.8 GHz vs. the previous 8 cores @ 2.4 Ghz per storage engine. The 10K also now uses the same internal interconnect as its big brother, the VMAX 40K.

Translated, this means roughly 2x the back-end IOPS, and a useful 30% bump on front-end bandwidth.

Of course, the *exact* performance improvement a specific customer may see is dependent on all sorts of factors, but just about everyone should see something noticeable.
More performance also means more workloads that can be consolidated, larger effective capacities can be driven harder, more advanced functionality (e.g. tiering, replication) can be used with less impact, and so on.
More performance is always a good thing.

Federated Tiered Storage Improvements

Over the last few years, many enterprise storage arrays have learned a neat trick: they can connect to existing block storage arrays and "front end" them.
This can be especially useful if you've got the typical 'stranded asset' problem -- the old storage now is somewhat more useful: it can benefit from the caching being done by newer array, it can be used with all the cool software features of the new enterprise array, and so on.
Both EMC and Hitachi have done this for a while. As far as I know, HP doesn't do this with 3PAR for architectural reasons.

Not surprisingly, EMC does this particular trick a bit better than Hitachi:

- EMC implements an error-checking protocol on data transfers between the VMAX and the older storage
- EMC allows the external capacity to play at anytier as part of FAST VP
This last bit is more useful than it might sound. While there's plenty of need to recycle older, slower storage as a capacity tier, we're guessing that people will eventually want to consolidate newer, faster arrays (maybe flash-based?) as part of a larger, consolidated tiering environment.

And, while we're on FTS (federated tiered storage), don't underestimate the power of bringing newer features to older storage: things like VPLEX and Recoverpoint just work of course, but also snaps, clones, remote replicas, storage management tools, etc. etc. I think it's an under-utilized capability in most shops.

Data At Rest Encryption (D@RE)

Slide8Another small bit of magic that the VMAX team has come up with is their implementation of data encryption. It's about as seamless and transparent as you can imagine.

Because it uses encryption engine on the controller (vs. on the drive) it can encrypt any storage type, including externally attached storage arrays. There is *no* measurable performance impact. And it's now integrated with the RSA Key Manager for a somewhat easier deployment.

If someone comes to you and says "hey, we should be encrypting all of our drives", it's sort of a turn-it-on-and-forget-about-it situation for most customers. If you think you're going to need the encryption feature, it should be specified when you order the product -- it can't be easily added later.

Data Compression For Old Data

In this release of Enginuity, we've got the first implementation of yet another efficiency technology to put into play -- in-place compression of stale data.

The customer sets a threshold (e.g. not accessed in the last 60 days), and the VMAX will compress it. Start accessing the data again, and it expands. While this doesn't meet the ultimate goal of real-time on-the-fly dynamic space reduction, it's still very useful in most production environments.

Quick thought -- how much of your storage capacity hasn't been accessed in the last 60 days?

Host I/O Limits

Most storage arrays try to please everyone -- turn around each and every I/O request just as fast as you can.
While that's an admirable goal, it's not ideal for everyone.
For example, we've got a growing cadre of service provider customers who deliver tiered storage services using VMAX.
This new feature helps them articulate *exactly* what customers are getting when they sign up for a particular class of storage service, e.g. 2000 IOPS.

Customers who sign up for a low storage performance level shouldn't get a "free lunch", as there would be less incentive to move up to a higher service class.

More pragmatically, customers and service providers continually want to push these arrays to their max, and these controls help them better utilize aggregated resource limits: CPU, memory, bandwidth. If you can limit what one group of applications can get (no need to overprovision) you can get much more useful work out of a given asset.

Not exactly a typical requirement, but it does exist.
This release of Enginuity implements host I/O controls (defined either by storage group and/or port group) to limit how much bandwidth and/or IOPs are allowed. This function is integrated into Unisphere for VMAX, which makes it straightforward to set up and monitor.
There's a longer list of other features in the new version of Enginuity as well -- available on all the VMAXen -- but these are the ones that stood out for me.


The VMAX 10K now supports popular third-party racks. Again, a little thing that means a lot to certain customers.
Customers can either use the EMC-supplied enclosures, or go with a decent number of popular racking options for the VMAX 10K components. There's even a nifty Cylon-style VMAX bezel available to preserve the nice looks :)

While we're on physical packaging, the VMAX 10K now supports what's dubbed "system bay dispersion", allowing two enclosures to be separated to aid in weight distribution (these are heavy boxes) or just give you a bit more flexibility as to where everything goes.

There's now support for intermixed 2.5" drives as well as the more familiar 3.5".
There are more than a few IT organizations who've put a lot of thought and effort into their data center physical infrastructure, and they've standardized on racking for all the right reasons. Service providers, in particular, care about this greatly.

The Partner Opportunity
Slide9Historically, the VMAX hasn't been what you'd describe as a "partner friendly" product for a variety of reasons.

Well, with the VMAX 10K, that's apparently changed. I was quite pleased to see just how many VMAX 10Ks have been sold as part of partner-led engagements.

For partners, you can see why it's an attractive proposition: the VMAX is a very differentiated offering, it targets customers who are looking for a high-value solution, and there's typically a nice services component that goes with it.
And, of course, the product has a helluva good reputation :)

What All Of This Might Mean
This particular segment of the market (entry-level enterprise-class storage arrays) have recently become popular -- which sort of surprises me.

If I could point to a root cause, I'd suggest it's a maturation of perspective: enterprise storage is much more than just a bunch of disks sitting behind a pair of controllers.

Like any growth area, it draws new competitive entrants. We at EMC have to compete vigorously in each and every segment of the broader storage marketplace. Nothing is easy in the storage market -- there are plenty of hungry companies out there.

If anything, the new VMAX 10K sends a clear message: we're bringing our best game to our customers, each and every day.


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