EMC’s August 2008 CX4 announcement supports Joe Tucci’s November 2007 promise that by mid-2008, EMC would have all the innovations introduced by upstart companies in recent years. CLARiiON has a large installed base of more than 300,000 systems and has field data to support claims of five-9’s availability, which EMC expects to carry forward to the CX4.
Rather than re-hash the announcement, the Wikibon community chose to focus on some unanswered questions and on what this announcement means to customer investment strategies with respect to midrange arrays in general.
Key discussion points of the August 12 Peer Incite meeting were the broader architectural issues related to the CX4 and implications for EMC’s competitive posture in the midrange. Clearly EMC’s intent was not just to respond to competitive innovations but to create an offering that sends a message to customers that CLARiiON is alive, well, and an attractive, safe investment.
With so many innovations (e.g. thin provisioning, spindown, flash drives, RecoverPoint integration, multi-protocol support, increased channels, etc.) EMC increased CLARiiON performance to fulfill this vision. The question for users is whether the performance enhancements are enough to support the new features and perhaps more importantly, how far will they carry the CX line?
The Wikibon community feels users should be confident that the substantial changes to the CX architecture (chip upgrades, quad core processors, 64-bit FLARE code, etc.) are more than sufficient to support EMC’s latest innovations, and users will see 2X or better performance improvements on a model-to-model replacement basis. How far EMC can take this dual-controller architecture, however, is unclear. Numerous emerging seemingly low cost architectures are on the horizon that should be on users’ radar that exploit high-capacity SATA devices and/or aggressively spread data over a virtualized infrastructure. Customers report these alternatives provide substantial performance advantages in certain applications. As the volume of less frequently accessed information increases, these innovations bear close inspection.
However, on balance customers and channel partners should be extremely encouraged by EMC’s aggressive investment in the platform in an attempt to maintain its technological lead.
Spindown and Energy Efficiency
As energy efficiency increasingly becomes a topic of concern for customers, more suppliers are introducing a spindown or MAID-like feature set into arrays. EMC’s CX4 spindown uses only ‘sleep mode’ as the power down option and is narrowly targeted to customers of the EMC Disk Library which uses a CLARiiON backend. Other spindown applications will not be supported until 2009.
While on the surface EMC’s approach limits the application of spindown, the fact is that packaging spindown as a solution and providing so-called ‘MAID-aware’ capabilities in the application allow users to exploit these features out of the box without concerns about drive inactivity causing application time-outs. While EMC doesn’t offer gradations of spindown (as, Nexsan, for instance, does), it has introduced 1TB 5400 RPM devices, which consume less power.
What’s missing from this capability is a formal API that partners and users can exploit. For now, customers are reliant on EMC to provide applications that spindown can leverage. What’s also missing are complementary tools to easily classify data that are candidates for spindown. This issue is not unique to EMC; the Wikibon community has not seen any array vendor package comprehensive tools to assist in data classification. EMC and others offer professional services to provide classification, and users should balance the potential for energy savings with the cost of these services. Customers should remember that plugging devices into the wall is not the best way to lower the power bill. Instead, eliminating spinning disks, and more importantly, getting rid of unneeded stored data are the only ways to effectively attack the energy problem over the long haul.
Persistent Write Cache
While EMC has not divulged how it makes write cache persistent, the capability is one of the architectural changes announced with the CX4. It’s unclear if EMC uses a battery backup or other non-volatile technique, but for customers this will mean less disruption. Generally users should think about availability in at least two dimensions, service interruptions and performance. Persistent write cache in CLARiiON will mean improved performance availability on hardware failures and less interruption during service events. While this capability will not be required by all CX customers, EMC is turning up the heat on the competition to offer similar capabilities.
Remote replication and RecoverPoint
As part of the CX4 announcement, EMC has improved the integration of its in-FLARE splitter code—the code that determines what gets replicated in a data protection environment. This move means users interested in CX remote and local replication services will pay less in professional services fees and see about 30% lower solution costs. It also underscores that CLARiiON high availability and disaster recovery features are increasingly competitive with the very highest end systems on the market (e.g. EMC's DMX and Hitachi's USPV) at a fraction of the cost.
EMC claims to be the first midrange storage supplier to be offering flash technology. How many CX users require flash remains unclear. For database index and applications that currently short-stroke spinning disks, flash offers a potentially viable tier 0, albeit at 22X the price of 15K FC drives. Users should continue to justify flash based not on cost per GB but rather on the value of performance and expect pricing todrop dramatically over the next two years.
Advice to Customers
Over the past several months, several emerging companies have made compelling comparisons relative to ‘standard midrange arrays’, which often is a euphemism for CLARiiON. Customers should make sure these comparisons are up to date and reflect the current CX4 before making buying decisions. As well, customers should familiarize themselves with innovations from a long list of emerging midrange storage suppliers including 3PAR, Copan, Compellent, Dell/Equallogic, Pillar, Nexsan, and Xiotech – to ensure that CX4’s innovations align with best-of-breed feature sets and EMC’s claims reflect the current state of competitive technologies.
Action Item: CLARiiON users should be encouraged by the CX4 announcement, particularly because EMC has sent a clear message that its strategy is to invest rather than milk the platform. While questions remain as to how far EMC can take a two-controller architecture, it would appear that from an innovation standpoint EMC is making it difficult to leave the CX off the RFP short list.