EMC Celerra NS20: Economical, Not Economy Class Storage

Company's unified storage gear makes headway thanks to ease of use, multi-protocol flexibility and an abundance of features.
Posted September 29, 2008

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

EMC has been traveling down the storage food chain at a rapid rate of knots in recent years. Sometime back, it realized it could no longer stay fat in its comfort zone of high-end storage. So its offerings have been moving steadily into the midmarket and small business space.

The Celerra NS20 is a case in point.

It is variously cast by EMC, either as an integrated IP storage platform, as well as multi-protocol storage. It is the entry level into the world of the EMC Celerra NS Series. To compete better with its rivals, EMC has equipped the NS20 to deal with multiple storage networks i.e. it can be used for NAS, iSCSI (IP SAN), and Fibre Channel (FC) SAN.

The NS20 is suitable for file-oriented applications such as home directories and web applications, or for block oriented applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL Server.

"It's good to see that EMC is gaining momentum in the low-end, easy-to-use multi-protocol NAS space via the NS20," said Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group of Stillwater, MN. "This will help the company to compete with the likes of NetApp and the other multi-protocol NAS solutions from HP, Dell and others."

To do well in the lower end of the storage spectrum, you have to roll out an abundance of ease-of-use features. The NS20 qualifies via rapid configure and install features. In terms of ease-of-use side, Barry Ader, senior director of EMC Storage Platforms Marketing, said it now takes less than 10 minutes from beginning of installation to the point where it is serving up files. Previous EMC products in this space, on the other hand, required a lot more know-how and would take several hours to set up.

"For many installations that would consider this type of storage solution, ease-of-use is frequently among the top considerations," said Ader. "All you need is four to seven data inputs on a couple of screens using the Celerra Startup Assistant."

The typical administrator who would look after the NS20, said Ader, isn't a full time storage manager who is fully versed in the intricacies of SANs, LUNs and FC. Instead, he or she would also be involved with server and network management functions. These individuals rarely have the time to receive the training required to become full-time storage management experts.

In keeping with that audience, therefore, wizard-based management breaks everything down into a simple format. As a result, EMC has been pleasantly surprised by demand. It has had to add a manufacturing ramp up to keep up with orders.

"We've experienced a 50 percent growth in Celerra sales," said Ader. "Part of the reason for this is that we no longer only sell them directly. Most NS20 sales are now via our partner network."

Another reason for the sales surge, noted Ader, is its multi-protocol nature. As it can connect to multiple storage networks via NAS, iSCSI, and Fibre Channel (FC), customers are using it to consolidate more applications onto one box. In addition, it is also being used as a home for data that used to reside on multiple file servers and arrays.

"We discovered that customers and partners want the choice of what protocols they run," said Ader. "You can use CIFS for one part, FC for another and iSCSI for another, all on the same NS20."

According to Ader, the NS20 is suitable for file-oriented applications such as home directories and web applications, or for block oriented applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL Server. If desired, it can be populated with SATA disk drives that provide large capacity, or Fibre Channel disk drives for highest performance. Multiple tiering can also be done by mixing and matching the type of drive.

For Microsoft Windows environments, LDAP is used to join a CIFS server to a Windows domain, and the NS20 supports LDAP message signing for improved security and integrity.

So how are most users deploying it? Ader said that about 50 percent have at least a partial FC component. Most companies have been using the NS20 for multiple protocols.

The NS20 has a big brother known as the EMC Celerra NS40. It provides more disk space – up to 240 disks as opposed to a maximum of 60 for the NS20. Both make use of dual core X-Blade servers to move more data from disk to network. These blades consist of dual 2.8 GHz Pentium IV CPUs with 266 MB of RAM, 2 FC ports for back-end storage connectivity, and two FC ports for tape.

Tags: Windows, Microsoft, Dell, HP, spectrum

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