EMC opens roadmap kimono
Virtualisation bit by bit
EMC Corp is preparing to launch new generations of its Symmetrix and Clariion storage arrays, as well as the first in a series of installments of a virtualization system that will be delivered bit by bit,Tim Stammers writes
An outline of the company's long-term and short-term technology plans emerged last week at its annual analyst briefing in New York, when EMC declared that it was "opening its kimono." The company detailed its long-term plans for a product range that will for the first time span the low-end as well as the high and mid-range market sectors.
These revelations were in addition to the tentative deal with Dell that EMC also announced at the same conference, under which Dell is to manufacture a new, low-cost variant of the Clariion.
"We've got a really strong product cycle coming up, and it's not just mid-life kickers," said EMC president and CEO Joe Tucci. "The vast majority of products unveiled today will be available in the next six to nine months," he said.
The new hardware that will ship in the short term includes a version of EMC's high-end Symmetrix array with a reworked and faster architecture, and a NAS device called the Celerriion, which will combine EMC's existing Celerra and Clariion boxes into one device. The new software that will probably ship around the year-end will involve policy-based provisioning, part of a virtualization strategy that was announced with strong comments from EMC about existing products from other companies.
The next generation of Symmetrix will introduce what EMC called a "parallel, non-blocking architecture." The Symmetrix has begun to look dated compared to the whizzier-looking and very recently updated Lightning from Hitachi Data Systems.
HDS has been one of the very first suppliers to measure its hardware against the very recently released Storage Performance Council benchmarks, but EMC is yet to commit itself to the SPC measure. The company's comments about the forthcoming upgrade to the Symmetrix were both both boastful and defensive. EMC is clearly aware of the perceived gap in performance between its and HDS' hardware.
HDS, like IBM has recently stolen high-end market share from EMC Corp. Asked about this, Tucci said: "The vast majority of our customers are staying with us. Not one customer has said to me "You know what's wrong with the Symmetrix, it's not fast enough. I really don't see the 9900V [latest HDS Lightning] disrupting us."
Price is the first issue with customers, and technical considerations such as cooling requirements come way before performance, according to Tucci. Even so, the CEO said that when it comes to array performance, "everybody lies." Coupled with a claim that the new Symmetrix architecture will for the first time deliver real world performance which matches promised theoretical performance, that statement looked dangerously close to an admission of guilt. Tucci said the parallelism and claimed non-blocking of the forthcoming Symmetrix will ensure that "what customers see is what they will get."
There were no details about the Clarrion update, other than the promise of a Celerriion - a Clariion running the Celerra's Dart operating system - and that the PowerPath multi-pathing technology of the Symmetrix will replace the existing ATF technology on the Clariion. EMC said that as part of an engineering efficiency drive, it has already commonized the HBAs and software drivers on the Clariion and Symmetrix.
Long-term, EMC's outline of its hardware plans revolved around its prediction of what the market will look like in future. According to EMC executive vice president David Donatelli, the market will stratify into three levels - low-end, mid-range, and high-end. Those categories already exist, so presumably EMC thinks the stratification will be far more pronounced that it is now. Donatelli said EMC will develop new products for the low and mid range - part of the new thrust of EMC into the low end, which ComputerWIre reported with the Dell deal last week. Tucci had already stressed that despite this move, the company also firmly intends to remain a high-end supplier.
Donatelli said future low-end storage devices will resemble today's converging handheld computers and wireless phones, because of their multi-purpose nature. These devices will be Intel- or Intel-clone powered, will ship mostly into Windows environments, and will use "lower speed" Fibre Channel disks, or ATA disks. They will be capable of performing server-free back-up and recovery, he predicted.
The mid-range will also combine multiple functions, but in a modular way, somewhat like a powertool sold with separate drilling, sanding, sawing and routing attachments. "There will be lots of flexibility here," Donatelli said, with options to fit engines for back-up, replication or SAN and NAS work. EMC's ideas for this area include Clariion arrays powered by blades running a choice of personalities or EMC operating systems, such as Flare, or Dart.
On the software front, EMC's Chris Gahagan, senior vice president of storage infrastructure, attempted to match the newsworthiness of the hardware announcements. Gahagan joined EMC only very recently from BMC Corp, and his arrival coincides with EMC's decision to embrace the term "virtualization" - a word which it has eschewed until now, like some other storage suppliers.
Gahagan wrote off the currently blossoming market for virtualization products with one sweeping statement.. "Nobody seems to have delivered a virtualization system that works," he said.
"The problem with them is that they are proposing a single method for virtualization. That's the Big Bang approach," he said. According to Gahagan, no single system can ever deliver virtualization. He presumably meant systems implemented on in-band, or out-of-band appliances. "You will never be able to buy a product that delivers virtualization. It's not a point product," he said.
Solutions that sell themselves as such require enormous faith from customers who are required to virtualize their entire data systems. Instead, EMC is proposing that customers "virtualize as you go," Gahagan said. EMC will deliver virtualization little by little, in distributed components."What EMC has today and what it will deliver in future will be elements of a virtualization."
As well as an architectural philosophy, Gahagan's statements may reflect an attempt by EMC to avoid the embarrassment suffered by Compaq and IBM. Both of those companies announced virtualization systems in 2000, and both have yet to ship any such software. Writing virtualization software is apparently not as easy as it might appear, and a little-by-little approach could be very appropriate.
The first of EMC's virtualization components will ship within the next three quarters, and will introduce policy-based provisioning of storage capacity. That promises to automate the wearisome and complicated task of allocating new storage volumes, or changing the attributes of existing volumes. "There's a lot of talk in the industry about this capability. We're going to deliver it in the next release of ECC [EMC ControlCenter management software]," said Erez Ofer, executive vice president of EMC's open software group.
Tucci confirmed what he hinted at very strongly during an EMC earnings call last year, that some of the company's software development will involve the acquisition of start-ups. But despite being pressed during a qestion session, he declined to detail this strategy in any way. EMC repeated its estimate that by 2004 around 30% of its revenue will come from software sales.