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EMC pencils Feb for Symmetrix upgrade

Much-needed revamp

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ComputerWire logo EMC Corp will shore up sliding sales of its high-end Symmetrix storage array next month when it will unveil a much-needed revamp to the device, which is being delivered anything up to a year later than originally planned.

The company yesterday issued invitations to a conference to be hosted by its CEO Joe Tucci in New York on Monday 3 February. According to sources, Tucci will launch the next generation Symmetrix 6 that day. EMC declined to comment on the subject of the conference, and said only: "We're in the middle of a complete product refresh accross hardware and software. This quarter we will address the high-end."

In the third and fourth quarters EMC focused on launching reworks to its Clariion storage array, which sells in the mid-range of the market. A new generation of Symmetrix has been due for many months. One reason for a delay may have been the reduced long-term importance of high-end disk arrays. Since RAID sales - and EMC's revenue - began their rapid descent in 2001, customers have switched from buying high-end arrays to buying mid-range devices, so making a Clariion revamp a higher priority than the Symmetrix.

The Symmetrix is commonly perceived to have slipped behind its rivals, the Shark array made by IBM Corp, and the Lightning array made by Hitachi Ltd. For this reason alone an update to the storage array is badly needed. But there is another even more pressing reason why the new hardware must ship very soon. Widespread anticipation of a launch this quarter has already badly affected sales of the current Symmetrix 5, causing EMC's share of market revenue to slide heavily over the last few months. IDC estimates that in the three months to September last year - the latest quarter for which the researcher has issued market share figures - EMC suffered a 21% sequential drop in disk sales, and saw its market share drop from 13% to 11%, making it the only loser among the top five suppliers.

That expectation of a first quarter launch was set by Tucci himself in October last year, when he also implicitly acknowledged that the update to the array was late. Referring to the Shark and Lightning upgrades launched last year, he said:"I'm not going to say that rolling out our Symmetrix upgrade after our competitors IBM Corp and Hitachi Ltd is a good strategy, but there's one clear advantage to it - we know what our competitors have to offer." He then added that EMC had already briefed customers about the new hardware.

The time taken to develop and ship new Symmetrix generations has been shortening. From the second generation to the third generation took around three years, and from there to the fifth generation - there was no fourth generation - took around two and a half years. Late in 2001, Mike Wytenus, EMC's director of storage platforms, told ComputerWire that the next generation leap will take "two plus" years. Which would have pitched it for arrival in April last year.

Although storage analysts say that the Shark and the Lightning may well have overtaken the Symmetrix in terms of performance, they warn that performance can vary greatly according to application. EMC has not tested the Symmetrix to the SPC-1 storage array benchmark - the only benchmark test defined for storage arrays, which has been applied to both the Lightning and the Shark.

Regardless of the fact that the performance of a disk array is not easy to pin down, perception is important, and EMC will attempt to reclaim the number one slot with the new device, which according to multiple reports will abandon the bus architecture of the Symmetrix 5 in favor of a more glamorous-sounding switched backplane as used in the Lightning.

© ComputerWire

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