Like anything relatively new, it will take a while for people to fully understand the rationale and the strategy behind the product. It took me a good while before I got a full grasp on the implications of this new technology.
But I can be slow to understand new concepts ... maybe you'll do better!
Building The Really Big Resource Pool
Let's oversimplify -- to get better utilization and responsiveness from IT infrastructure, we all want to create big pools of resources.
Call it a cloud, call it whatever you want -- the goal is to create a dynamic, liquid pool of resources that all can use. VMware is doing this for virtual servers. And EMC is doing this for virtual storage.
We want to use these resource pools to do all sorts of cool things -- increase utilization, have extra headroom if needed, load balance across all resources, make migrations easier, even come up with entirely new ways to provide business continuity.
The bigger the pool, the better. The more hardware-agnostic, the better. And if we can pool resources in multiple locations, even better -- especially when we consider using external service providers.
VPLEX is a new platform to build these new storage pools -- big, hardware-agnostic storage pools that can stretch over distances.
These newer storage pools will help drive up utilization, be more responsive to new resource demands, load balance across available resources, make migrations far easier, and support entirely new models for business continuity.
We use the term "storage federation" to describe this pooling of storage resources. Simply put, this is big stuff.
Thinking Out Of The Box
OK, lots of new capabilities here. One might wonder -- well, why didn't EMC just make this a feature of the storage array?
Well, technologically speaking, there's no good reason why we couldn't do this at some point -- but, in talking to customers, they were pretty adamant that they wanted to build their resource pools from the storage they already had in place.
Sometimes it'd be EMC storage of different flavors, sometimes not. Hence the need for an external device that sits between storage and server.
In one sense, there's a pretty strong argument that VPLEX is an entirely new storage platform -- it delivers a new class of storage services (storage federation) that weren't widely available before.
VPLEX does this by creating a new abstraction layer over existing storage devices -- you still see LUNs, but their physical location is now dynamic -- much in the same way that a VMware server farm will put the right application on the right server at the right time.
There's a broad range of use cases for VPLEX, spanning the range of "better ways to do things you're doing today" all the way to "entirely new things to consider".
If you're interested in classic storage virtualization capabilities (SVC, USP-V, et. al.) you'll find a fresh approach with a broader set of architectural capabilities than the alternatives. And, yes, I'm sure we'll be going head-to-head on things like scalability, availability, manageability, etc. -- and come out favorably.
But if you think this is just about a better classic storage virtualization platform, I'd argue you're missing the point.
First, using VPLEX, you've got a much better stretched cluster approach between two data centers. Rather than a brute-force approach of stretching each and every SAN connection over a distance, we now have what looks to be a "single LUN" with some very smart dynamic sychronization behind it.
And we're all enamored with the idea of, say, a VMware cluster that load balances and fails over intelligently between two data centers. Not to mention file systems, databases and the applications that run on them. Or perhaps pooling together multiple VBlocks into a single, geographically-dispersed cluster.
Distances will grow over time -- 100km today, asynchronous distances before too long. And, farther out, the ability to support N-way configurations rather than pairs of locations.
Do People Want This?
Well, we've talked to enough customers in enough gory detail to convince ourselves that -- yes -- there is a significant market that wants this sort of functionality -- especially when distance comes into play.
Part of the challenge is human nature -- we tend to evaluate new things in the context of things we already know. For example, is the iPad simply a better netbook? Or something entirely new?
Interest generally falls into three buckets: (1) customers with multiple data centers who'd like a new model for exploiting resources at distance, (2) customers who'd like to make increased use of external service providers, and -- of course -- (3) customers who are looking for a better form of "traditional" storage virtualization.A New Form Of Replication To Consider -- Access Anywhere
If you're in the storage business, you know we have a complicated taxonomy of replication types. Synchronous and asynchronous. Continuous and point-in-time. Add in multi-hop, consistency groups, bunkers, etc. -- there are lots of different animals in the zoo.
Well, now there's a new one -- global federation -- one that doesn't presume the usual target/source type of arrangement. Information can appear to be in two or more places at the same time -- independently of where it actually might live.
And it's going to take a while for us to collectively get our heads to accept that "where the storage is accessed" isn't necessarily the same as "where the storage is physically located.
What To Expect Next
Now for some safe predictions.
First, the HDS and IBM crew will undoubtedly try to be as negative about the product (and EMC) as is humanly possible. I would expect nothing less. As long as they stick to the facts, though, it should be interesting to watch the discussion unfold.
Second, there will be a predictable technologist reaction against the perceptions of more complexity, lock-in, etc. Hard to avoid that reaction anytime you invent something new, or introduce a new layer in the stack. But smart IT decision makers always weigh the pros and cons, and do what's best for the business.
Third, we're going to be really, really busy explaining this new technology to enterprise IT organizations and service providers. That's been going on for a while ...
Many of these people immediately recognize that the ability to federate storage can now potentially change a lot of large-scale assumptions -- how many data centers you build, what roles they play, how you think about delivering IT globally.
It's weighty stuff, indeed.
Who said storage was boring?
Resources and additional links (will be updated over time, so please check back)
- A nice case study from AOL, along with a video.
- A nice video from Melbourne IT, one of our service provider partners.
- An evaluation report from our good friends at ESG.
- A short slide deck, although I think it's a bit outdated in a few areas ...
- A nice set of alliance partner video clips from Brocade, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and of course VMware.
- A wonderful solution brief showing the environment behind VPLEX moving Oracle, SQLserver and Exchange dynamically at a distance
- And, of course, the master launch page on EMC's web site here.