EMC Reloads High-end Storage with the Matrix

UPDATE: How far does the rabbit hole go for next-generation data storage? EMC hopes to find out with its new Symmetrix servers.
Hoping to regain market share lost to competitors HP and IBM in the high-end storage space, EMC Monday debuted its highly-anticipated new line of Symmetrix storage servers supported by a new architecture.

The Matrix and the event in NYC

The Symmetrix DMX series is based on what the Hopkinton, Mass. storage specialist calls a "revolutionary" Direct Matrix Architecture geared to provide unparalleled performance, scalability and cost-effectiveness for enterprise customers.

Featuring a new interconnect framework for piping data effortlessly from one point to another, Direct Matrix Architecture eliminates the performance ceiling inherent in all bus- and switch-based storage architectures. EMC pledges the Matrix will provide high performance for sustained workloads and unexpected activity. The concern also guaranteed that all of its software is compatible with the DMX line. For example, the new DMX series can be managed by EMC ControlCenter open management software, which happens to provide management capabilities for all other major storage platforms.

EMC President and CEO Joe Tucci, who was in New York with is management team to unveil the sixth iteration of the Symmetrix line, said his firm could have developed yet another bus- or switch-based Symmetrix, but chose not to because customers were expecting something more powerful, and worth the investment.

Tucci said he and his team, including David Donatelli, head of storage platforms, entertained the notion of producing a Symmetrix version between 5.5 and the current version. But, he said, they cast that idea aside to focus on the Direct Matrix Architecture.

Donatelli showed how EMC's Enginuity operating system can handle bursts of unexpected activity during the DMX product launch, as well as integrity checks with his company's new "unique component isolation." Tucci said EMC made an enormous hardware technology advance while maintaining complete continuity with our Enginuity operating environment and software. "Common practice across the industry is to sacrifice one for the other," Tucci said.

Donatelli also explained the concepts of modular storage, in which customers receive pieces of a storage system to allow for better granularity, and monolithic storage, where customers receive the entire system at once. Donatelli said his firm's rack-mounted DMX800 should prove to be an attractive buy for firms who want to add storage capabilities incrementally. EMC said it beat out one of its own products with DMX800: a Symmetrix DMX800 system configured with 7.2 usable terabytes offers up to three times higher performance at a list price that is almost a third lower than last year's Symmetrix 8530 system with the same capacity.

On another key note, the outfit said the DMX line is designed for full compliance with the Storage Management Initiative (SMI) (previously known as Bluefin) specifications when they become accepted beginning this year. EMC has taken a beating publicly from rivals such as Sun, HP and IBM for pledging support for SMI, but not producing concrete products that are compliant with it.

What the analysts and rivals are saying

EMC, who has lost market share to HP and IBM in the past couple of years, hopes the new product will give it the momentum its needs to regain its king-of-the-storage-hill status, a tough feat in a time when the storage segment -- and the IT industry overall -- is experiencing stagnancy.

Analysts were supportive. Randy Kerns, Partner at The Evaluator Group, described EMC's DMX line and new interconnect schema as a "quantum leap" in storage.

"This eliminates the risk of implementing new technology and waiting for code stabilization," Kerns said. "The benefit for customers is that they won't suffer from the year-long new product shakeouts typical in this industry."

Enterprise Storage Group Senior Analyst Nancy Marrone also lauded EMC's achievements, noting the products "definitely put EMC back in the performance leadership position, which they could not claim in recent years."

Marrone discussed the DMA architecture with internetnews.com: "According to the numbers posted by EMC, the DMX architecture produces incredible throughput up to 64GB/s, which is 40x the current Symmetrix throughput (and 6x the HDS 9980v). It certainly does seem like the direct path architecture (between channel directors and cache) eliminates any previous issues with bottlenecks in bus and switch architectures."

Marrone continued: "There are really three key aspects of this announcement. First, of course, is the fact that EMC has totally revamped their Symmetrix line and provided the highest performing arrays on the market. Second, the introduction of the modular solution enables EMC to target a market they previously could not tap with the Symmetrix products, as the modular products provide high-end functionality at "mid-tier" price points. This enables users to enter the high end at a lower price point, and we assume EMC is counting on those customers needing to expand on those modular systems over time."

Lastly, Marrone said the common architecture provides a great deal of flexibility for the user.

"All of the software available for Symmetrix solutions today is available for the new Symmetrix line on release, and there is disk compatibility across lines as well," Marrone said. "What does this mean to the user? Of course all products will be able to be managed in a similar fashion, but the software compatibility allows for some creative use of new and old solutions. Users could potentially use the DMX 800 modular units as replication solutions for high end DMX or existing Symmetrix, or even use the older Symmetrix as replication targets for the new DMX solutions. The new architecture also provides an upgrade path from existing CLARiiON solutions to the DMX 800 configuration."

EMC couldn't get through a full days worth of product news without competitive sniping. IBM derided EMC's so-called proprietary nature.

"What customers really want are integrated solutions based on open standards -- where they can buy servers, storage, and networking gear in one package -- rather than piece together parts from niche competitors like EMC. If customers choose an EMC storage server, such as Symmetrix 6, they lose the ability to make choices and control their operating environment," said Bob Samson, vice-president of worldwide systems sales for IBM's Systems Group. "Customers are tired of being quilt makers, having to stitch together all these different components."

Sun Microsystems echoed IBM.

"With all of EMC's announcements, we think it's far more telling what they didn't announce. They didn't announce a 100% data availability guarantee, perhaps because they don't use 100% data center components, or cache mirroring, both factors that enable Sun to be the only IT vendor offering this guarantee," said Bill Groth, senior director, storage systems marketing, Sun Microsystems. "We also didn't see them announce relief from bundled software or configuration charges. Unproven architecture, no guarantee and mandatory software license fees. We can understand why EMC would not want to promote these features to potential customers who are trying to do more with less as they seek maximum value with their limited IT budgets."

Models, availability and pricing

The Symmetrix DMX Series is available in three models:

  • Symmetrix DMX800, a rack-mount system that scales from 8 to 16 front-end ports, from 1.2 to 17.5 terabytes of raw capacity (1 to 15.3 usable) and from 4 to 32 gigabytes of global cache for open systems environments
  • Symmetrix DMX1000, a single-bay integrated system, scales from 8 to 48 front-end ports, from 3.5 to 21 terabytes of raw capacity (3 to 18.5 usable) and from 4 to 64 gigabytes of global cache for mainframe and open systems environments
  • Symmetrix DMX2000, a dual-bay integrated system, scales from 8 to 96 front-end ports, from 7 to 42 terabytes raw capacity (6.1 to 37 usable) and from 8 to 128 gigabytes of global cache for mainframe and open systems environments

All Symmetrix DMX systems are available immediately, are priced from $409,000 to $2.5 million and vary based on configuration. Support for FICON mainframe connectivity, an IBM-devised technology considered vital in the storage sector, will be available this summer.






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