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Hoping to advance its technology lead over rushing rivals, EMC this week rolled out a series of software updates for its Centera system that help customers get more out of the box.

EMC has delivered the most notable Centera additions by releasing Version 3.0 of the CentraStar operating system. This release brings "virtual pool" technology for divvying up information on a Centera box and also new data replication tools. Add in a few more options for chargeback and search functions and EMC has stacked Centera well to compete against new boxes from the likes of HP, StorageTek and Sun Microsystems.

"We're not announcing a future here," said Roy Sanford, a vice president at EMC. "We're actually delivering it."

Sanford rightly points out that Centera belongs to that rare class of system that gives a vendor room to boast. EMC more or less defined the CAS (content addressable storage) market, figuring out early that customers would look for disk-based systems to store unchanging data. This allowed EMC to get a jump on the market and make up for some of its more embarrassing "we're announcing a future but not delivering" moments.

Customers who already bought the Centera sales pitch will likely warm to the virtual pool idea that makes it more practical to store data for a number of applications on a single system.

In the past, Centera didn't have a clean means of separating one application's information from that of another. This wasn't a huge problem since most customers were storing information from a single app - e-mail, for example - on the box. Recently, however, more customers have moved to use one Centera box with more than one app, which has in turn made replicating or searching for data tough. Basically, the same rules applied to all the apps even if the customer might want them to govern just one.

Now customers can have an application see only the data that belongs to it.

"When e-mail archives are stored into Centera, we keep that e-mail archive information in a virtual pool inside a Centera cluster and separate that from other data in the cluster," Sanford said.

Savvy administrators can also set up different permissions for each "pool" of data. That's a nice option for a company that needs to guarantee one department isn't peeking at the information from another group. It can also help with governance checks - a must in today's rubber glove culture.

When not getting virtual, EMC hunkered down on replication functions for Centera. Version 3.0 goes beyond the boring one-to-one past to permit replication from numerous sites to a single, central archive. In addition, customers can link together three or more systems to replicate data in a type of chain - this being a requirement for some companies in Europe looking to keep up with Basel II.

Away from CenteraStar, EMC released Version 3.5 of its Centera Universal Access package that lets third-party applications connect into Centera systems. The software now scales better - up to 200m objects - and will run on a box qualified to slip into a Centera rack.

Last but not least, EMC has released Version 1.1 of both its CenteraSeek search software and Chargeback Reporter software. The latter package works with the new virtual pools. ®

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