Yes, EMC did a Megalaunch at the beginning of this year with over 40 new storage products.
And, yes, at EMC World we announced even more new products and technologies.
Surprise -- there's still much more new product goodness to talk about in 2011 -- a lot more.
That should give you a good idea of the accelerated pace of R&D (not to mention M&A) here at EMC.
Today, we're announcing a vastly simpler, easier-to-use "starter" version of the legendary Symmetrix VMAX high-end enterprise storage array.
And at a lower price, naturally.
If you're interested in storage, you'll probably want to take a few moments to understand what EMC is doing here, and what it means for the overall storage market in general.
It's not inconsequential.
High-End Storage Architectures Are Different
For people not enmeshed in the bowels of the storage business, they often don't easily appreciate the architectural differences between, say, a mid-tier dual controller architecture (such as the EMC VNX) and a high-end multi-controller architecture - such as the VMAX.
For those of us who work with storage arrays and storage customers each and every day, the differences are substantial and familiar.
Although the terminology is slightly different for each storage platform, today's VMAX can support up to 8 "storage engines", each of which uses a pair of storage directors. So, right off the bat, you're talking a heckuva lot more processing and connectivity than a traditional mid-tier design -- no matter which vendor we're talking about.
With a VMAX, there's DRAM-style nonvolatile storage cache, and a lot of it. A high performance fabric creates a single, pooled mesh of storage resources. Using more modern nomenclature, it would be fair to describe VMAX as "scale-out for block storage", much the way Isilon is scale-out for files and Atmos scales out for objects.
So, who needs all that connectivity, capacity, cache and crunch in their storage arrays?
The answer: just about any decent-sized enterprise, and a surprising number of more modest IT shops as well.
Symmetrix VMAX has long been the gold standard for demanding mixed enterprise workloads -- hairy databases being the prime example -- and being able to deliver predictable performance even when replicating, rebuilding, etc. Although no analyst provides specific market share figures for this storage category, our data tells us that EMC has been #1 here for a very long time indeed.
Put differently, even a modest VMAX can comfortably and predictably handle mixed and bursty workloads that could potentially crush the more common dual-controller array.
Trust me, we know these things :)
Does High-End Storage Always Mean A Really Big Array? No ...
If you look at the published stats for a full-blown VMAX, it's clear that they can get really, really big in a single footprint. Check it out: up to 8 dual-director storage engines. 1 TB of DRAM nonvolatile cache. 128 front-end ports. 2,400 drives. 2 PB of capacity. All available as a single, auto-managed and auto-balanced block storage pool. That's big.
But what if you needed all that high-end enterprise goodness in a smaller, simpler, and more cost-effective package? And what if you're not especially interested in all the extensive customization that's inherent in any large VMAX configuration?
Trading off a lower entry cost and less complexity for a bit less scale -- yep, that'd be pretty attractive to a non-trivial group of customers.
Introducing the VMAXe
If you're looking along the continuum of EMC block-oriented storage arrays, it nicely fits in between the VNX and the existing VMAX -- ideal for people who want a high-end block array, but can't justify a full-boat VMAX.
A number of smaller vendors (now since acquired by larger vendors) have taken a run at this "scale-out enterprise block array" market, most notable 3PAR and, to a certain extent, Compellent.
Put them head-to-head with the new VMAXe, and you'll probably come to the conclusion that the competitive dynamic is now very different :)
Quick VMAXe Highlights
The new VMAXe can start as small as a single storage engine (a pair of storage directors) and scale to 4 storage engines vs. 8 storage engines in the full VMAX. Up to 960 "disks" are supported, usually a combination enterprise flash and more traditional spinning media.
There's new flexible packaging as well: it appears you can put all the storage engines in a single rack (with external storage), put each storage engine in its own rack, or any combination. Storage enclosures with or without storage engines can
now be separated by up to 10m.
And, the VMAXe comes packaged in a very standard 19" rack. From a purely technical perspective, larger storage configurations can benefit from optimized enclosures, but -- in this segment of the market -- we felt that compatibility with existing rack infrastructure was perhaps more important than getting the ultimate footprint density etc.
The new VMAXe can also run nicely on standard single-phase power. Very nice for those smaller data centers, indeed.
Making Array Software Simpler
One of the things we discovered with the VNX and VNXe is that customers really appreciate software that's easy to acquire. For the VMAXe, EMC has created a core package with a handful of optional bundles.
Software licensing is vastly simplified as well -- there's a flat per-terabyte fee that makes calculating costs very straightforward. All software comes pre-loaded, which is nice.
Again, if you want to hand-pick your software titles, or consider alternative licensing approaches, there's still the larger VMAX.
Astute readers will note the initial lack of SRDF support on the VMAXe. We're targeting RecoverPoint's advanced CDR/CDP model as the preferred replication engine here. As you might recall, RP is rather agnostic when it comes to supporting different flavors of storage -- a useful thing in this market segment.
If you read the fine print, you'll also notice there's no support for the proprietary IBM server platforms: zSeries mainframes as well as the iSeries.
The VMAXe is the most recent beneficiary of this approach.
Ordering the product has been simplified by an order-of-magnitude -- there's a handful of popular configurations, and a few options to decide on. You don't need a master's degree in storage architecture to order one :)
Because the configurations have been greatly standardized, the factory can pre-configure and pre-install most everything. Out of the box, it's pretty much ready-to-go -- sort of like a Vblock :)
The on-site installation process is basically a validation of the hardware plus a handful of configuration scripts. Once that's done, thanks to Virtual Provisioning, the storage is ready to present to servers.
Compare the VMAXe process to the more traditional VMAX process, and you'll see that it's night and day.
So, What Does This Mean?
For starters, I meet plenty of customers who could really benefit from VMAX-level technology, but couldn't justify the time, complexity and expense. Now we've got something just for them.
I think many of EMC's Velocity partners will see a huge opportunity here -- many of the potential VMAXe customers are handled by our partners vs. EMC directly.
There's an interesting global angle as well for the VMAXe -- we have all sorts of customers outside of North America who need mission-critical infrastructure, but don't yet have significant scale.
Where Does VMAXe Win?
I'm sure there will be some vibrant and healthy back-and-forth on how the new VMAXe stands up to competitive alternatives.
The most compelling argument in EMC's favor?
Simple: it's a Symmetrix VMAX -- the gold standard in high-end enterprise storage -- just in a different envelope. The new VMAXe is sold and supported by the most experienced storage vendor on the planet: EMC. It's smaller, easier to buy, install and use day-to-day.
And it's priced competitively.
A few of you are probably aware that the product has been shipping since June. Indeed, Chris Mellor at The Register got the full story early on -- as usual.
Early indications are quite positive: there's a healthy receptivity from customers and partners alike -- one that should only grow over time.
The Customer Reality
Big, important workloads aren't only found in big, important IT shops -- more modest-yet-important IT shops have them as well. We see them all the time.
And it's tough when I see a customer who could really benefit from something like a VMAX "trade down" into a more modest and/or less-capable storage array simply because they don't have the justification for a full-blown VMAX.
Wouldn't it be great if EMC could come up with something just for these folks? Make it powerful, make it simple, make it easy -- and at a more affordable price? Get them into the whole scale-out block storage thing without too much hassle?
Well, that's what we did.
Trust me, you're going to see a lot of VMAXe out there before too long :)