As I started my employment, EMC had just announced a three-bay mainframe storage array with a whopping ONE TERABYTE of raw capacity -- half that when mirrored. Whoa!
Back in the day, it was a really big deal.
Here we are in 2012, and the Symmetrix platform (now VMAX) continues to be just as fascinating and compelling to me as it was back in the day.
With the most recent announcements, it's pretty clear that -- yes -- Symmetrix VMAX is *still* the company's flagship product.
If you're not familiar with VMAX, this post won't cover that for you. The platform has continually evolved advanced functionality and capabilities over a time span now approaching two decades. If I tried, the result wouldn't be a blog post, it'd be a textbook.
With these most recent announcements, it's crystal clear that VMAX continues to earn the leadership position it has historically enjoyed: capacity, performance, functionality, availability, simplicity -- and efficiency.
The frustrating part for me is that a significant number of people think the VMAX is for "someone else". Recent enhancements have made the platform smaller and far easier to use, so if you haven't considered a VMAX recently, maybe you should ...
The Symmetrix Club
Storage is a widely used technology across the IT spectrum. And there are plenty of use cases (and plenty of opinions!) when it comes to storage.
But there's a certain audience that takes their enterprise storage very seriously.
They want the very best performance and availability. They want the most advanced functionality and management capabilities. They want to push the limits in efficiency. And they want to do so at significant scale.
These are Symmetrix customers.
Enterprise storage professionals are often drawn to it like a magnet. They get to know each and every nuance of its capabilities. They get into very detailed discussions with our engineers as well as each other. I've always thought of it as the Symmetrix Club.
OVer the years, the price of admission has fallen considerably, thanks to smaller packaged versions of the VMAX. But whether large or small, these customer always care about the same things.
First, the line has expanded and the naming has been cleaned up.
There are now three models of the VMAX: the 10K, 20K and 40K. The numbers are a rough indication of relative performance and expansion capability.
There's some important new functionality for all VMAX editions, including an important new capability: FTS or federated tiered storage.
Customers have a new choice for management: there's now a version of EMC's Unisphere for the VMAX -- bringing the same ease-of-use that's become so popular on the VNX and VNXe.
And -- at the high end of the range -- there's some very powerful new hardware to appreciate.
New Models, New Top-End Hardware
As the VMAX range expands both up and down, the naming was getting complex. The entry-level VMAXe is now the VMAX 10K. The familiar VMAX is now the VMAX 20k. And a new, uber-big and uber-fast VMAX model is being introduced: the VMAX 40k.
The 40k -- being new -- deserves a bit of attention.
First and foremost, every dimension of performance has been meaningfully increased. The CPUs are faster, and there are more cores. There's more global cache. The virtual matrix interconnect has more bandwidth. And so on.
If you like raw performance, you'll appreciate the details. The team is claiming 3x bandwidth performance with the 40k hardware vs. the 10k and 20k (already the fastest in the industry) so expect the predictable chest-thumping :)
If you need even more performance, there's also now the option of VFcache (server-side flash) as sort of a nitrous turbo boost on top of everything else.
Transactional performance, in particular, gets an eye-popping kick in the pants through local caching effects.
Density and capacity get a major bump as well.
The new model supports up to 3,200 2.5" drives (disk and flash), yielding the potential of up to 4 usable PBs (4,000 terabytes) in a single VMAX. And there's a new eMLC flash drive that joins the party as well.
There are also some great new options to disperse the storage bays and processing bays as well to comfortably fit in larger data centers.
Lots to like here :)
Symmetrix has always been such a functionality-rich storage platform that you can easily get lost in all the details, and the new functionality in Enginuity 5876 now available on VMAX platforms is no exception.
I'll do my best to hit the highlights -- but you'll have to go elsewhere for the deeper details.
Federated Tiered Storage (FTS) is a new capability that allows a VMAX customer to use the VMAX storage processor in front of non-EMC (and presumably legacy) storage devices.
Save for a few modest restrictions, old capacity gets much smarter simply by plugging it in: FAST VP, SRDF and RecoverPoint replication, VMware API integration, consistent management, mobility via VPLEX, etc. etc. all available to the legacy storage devices.
When combined with FAST VP, external storage can be defined as a specific tier with policy associated to move data into (or out of) the external pool as you see fit. Unlike other implementations, the VMAX improves data integrity by using extended checksums when used with external storage.
The new FTS feature turns out to be a very pragmatic capability in larger settings where rather draconian accounting rules can force hardware assets to stay in use beyond a reasonable timeframe -- say, five years in some cases.
That's a big help for many IT managers with large (and stranded!) storage portfolios.
The RecoverPoint splitter is now available within the VMAX. It takes a bit of explanation as to why this is such a big deal to some people, so let me try.
RecoverPoint is about as good as it gets in flexible, storage agnostic replication technologies. Simple, powerful, efficient, flexible, easy-to-use: it makes many of those stitched-together replication schemes of yesteryear look rather primitive.
One of the keys to great RP performance is the I/O splitter: the software that makes a copy of a written block and sends it on to its destination as part of a recovery log.
Putting the RP splitter in the storage array means a big win in performance, efficiency and simplicity. Putting the RP splitter in Enginuity 5876 (now with FTS supporting non-EMC storage, remember) is even a bigger win.
VP (virtual provisioning) and the uber-successful FAST VP get a number of incremental enhancements, the most important of which is new support for IBM's z and i series platforms. IBM i Series users, in particular, get some important love and attention as a result.
There's a signficant number of those out there, and they want cool storage too :)
Digging deeper, there's an architectural change to the back-end device management that allows much faster reconfiguration of the physical storage pools behind the virtualized ones.
The default management console has started to move to Unisphere, using the standard EMC look-and-feel that now appears across the majority of our products.
And provisioning speed has been increased even further: the example presented shows a 1TB pool being provisioned to a 16-node ESX cluster in seconds.
There are literally dozens of other incremental enhancements to discuss, but you'll have to track down a card-carrying member of the Symmetrix Club to learn about those.
A New Management Choice
Given that the VMAX range now spans from rather modest configurations (e.g. VMAX 10k) to stupefyingly large (clusters of multiple VMAX 40ks), more management choices are in order.
In addition to the standard VMAX management console, and the purpose-built ProSphere environment, there's a new and intriguing choice: EMC's Unisphere.
Since its introduction as part of the broader VNX and VNXe introduction, it's earned rave reviews for both simplicity and power. Bottom line: you don't have to be storage specialist to do amazing things.
I see the VMAX flavor of Unisphere working well in both modest VMAX environments, as well as customers who have a mix of both VMAX and VNX.
Just another example of the shift from "the right answer" to "the right answer for you".
What Does All This Mean?
I'm going to resist the temptation to dip into hyperbole here and call all of this game-changing or something. The game hasn't changed: storage continues to grow, organizations need more performance, capacity, availability, efficiency -- and simplicity.
If you're doing all of that in an enterprise setting at reasonable scale, you're probably a candidate for a Symmetrix VMAX.
That hasn't changed.
If you've already invested in VMAX technology, there's good news here as well. These announcements bring more value to what you've already purchased, and give you some very attractive capabilities going forward.
That hasn't changed either.
Unfortunately, the competitive dynamics will probably remain similar.
Hitachi continues to trudge along with its familiar high-end enterprise product, and IBM will continue to bundle their storage with everything else they do to preserve market share.
Not everyone buys storage based on independent attributes: performance, capacity, availability, management, efficiency, etc.
But I expect an increasing number of IT shops will continue to take a hard look at their storage environment, and think "maybe it's time for a VMAX".
And perhaps you're one of them.