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EMC rattled the storage world today by releasing one of the highest-end NAS (network attached storage) systems on the planet. Along with the hardware, EMC also rolled out a number of software upgrades meant to make managing large volumes of data easier.

With the Celerra NSX box, EMC feels pretty confident that it has won the "my NAS gateway is bigger than yours" contest over rivals such as Network Appliance and IBM. When fully equipped, the Celerra NSX holds 8 of what EMC is calling its X-Blade servers, which allows it to crank out a whopping 300,000 NFS (network file system) operations per second. Customers will also find 112TB of storage in a maxed out configuration.

"This is the reaffirmation that EMC owns the high-end of the NAS market," Tom Joyce, a vice president of marketing at EMC, told The Register.

EMC has worked hard for that type of bravado. It has spent the last few years rounding out its NAS line from top down in the hopes of competing better against swift rival NetApp. While EMC has made large gains, it still trails NetApp in market share according to the latest figures from IDC. The research firm has NetApp taking 37 per cent of NAS sales in 2004 compared with 33 per cent for EMC. The two companies are clearly the dominant players in the market.

As a single system, the Celerra NSX does stretch beyond anything offered by NetApp or IBM. Customers, however, have to pay for this storage consolidation miracle. With four of the X-Blades, the new system starts at $278,250. You can only imagine what a fully-packed version of the beast will run.

EMC knew such thoughts would cross the minds of customers and journalists and provided us with an always handy - and unbiased - price/performance analysis between its kit and the high-end NetApp 980 system, which can be clustered, and IBM's NAS 500 Gateway.

Lining up maximum configurations for each box, EMC reckons that the Celerra NSX has 68 per cent better price/performance than NetApp's system and 53 per cent better price/performance than IBM's box. When clustered, NetApp's boxes max out at 70,000 NFS operations per second and IBM's NAS 500 hits 68,000 operations per second. The IBM result is somewhat irrelevant since it will soon phase out the NAS 500 in favor of NetApp's systems as part of a broader NAS reselling partnership.

The above comparison is a little difficult to swallow since neither NetApp or IBM are trying to go as high-end as EMC.

EMC wants large and even medium-sized businesses to see the Celerra NSX as a cost-effective system for consolidating NAS operations. The system will sit in front of of EMC's Symmetrix and Clariion SAN (storage area network) systems, adding NAS functions to these boxes.

On the software side, EMC has tuned the Celerra box to handle larger files and larger file systems. This is primarily for customers in verticals such as oil and gas and biotech who have huge data sets. EMC has outfitted its entire NAS line with support for iSCSI as well.

In addition, EMC rolled out the Celerra Automated Volume Management (AVM) package, which plugs into the Celerra Manager. The new software guides administrators through the process of creating file systems of the right size and performance levels to meet different workloads. It also automates a host of functions, inclduing load balancing, striping and volume creation.

EMC also put out the Centera FileArchiver (CFA) product, which will plug into the Celerra FileMover API to add some policy-based management tools to the hardware.

Overall, EMC has made it pretty easy for customers to buy into the new Celerra behemoth. They can start out with a small number of the X-Blades and then "turn on" new blades should they need them. The box officially starts shipping next month. ®

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