EMC Announcement About Breaking Records – Performance and Management.

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We’re headed to London next week to report on, amongst other things, this mystery announcement EMC has been teasing out the last couple of weeks. I’d been personally hearing murmurs that “something big” was coming down the pike for at least two or three weeks – the speculation in the blogosphere has been ratcheting up quite a bit the last four days or so.

As my focus is tends to be on the developer side of big data, I’ve hit up experts on all things storage and hardware.  I’ve come up with some clues as to what this “record breaking” bonanza could be about – Performance.  Meanwhile, the EMC news leaked out via search storage blog.

Announcement Prediction: VNX Storage Systems

The cat seems to be out of the bag on at least one aspect of the announcement – something called VNX storage systems.

StorageNewsletter has some guesses on what may be coming out in EMC’s mammoth announcement, based on recent trademarks filed:

EMC Corp. is supposed to announce in the U.S. on January 18 its new VNX storage systems with five models combining CLARiiON SAN and Celerra NAS for blocks and files usage, with new Intel processors to increase performance, and SAS replacing FC HDDs. On Monday, May 10, 2010, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for VNX by EMC.

The UK Register has more details:

EMC will introduce VNX5000 and VNX7500 products unifying its CLARiiON and Celerra mid-range storage arrays, according to documents seen by El Reg.

The CLARiiON range is in its fourth CX4 generation and EMC’s mainstream block-access storage array. It is accompanied by the Celerra NX4 and NX3e block and file-access array which has date movers, providing the NAS (network-attached storage) access to its (CLARiiON) storage enclosures. It is generally thought that EMC’s arch storage competitor, NetApp, has a superior unified block and file-access storage architecture in this product/market space with its FAS6000 and 3000 arrays, particularly when providing storage for virtual servers and desktops.

The Reg is basing this speculation on documents they’ve been leaked as well as hints from EMC that a mid-range storage product would be debuted to top NetApp’s performance benchmarks.

My sources seem to concurred:

“EMC has been promising to ‘unify’ it’s midrange CLARiiON (block) and Celerra (file) systems for  quite some time and many observers  expect that capability in this announcement.”

Announcement Prediction: Breaking NetApp’s Performance Benchmark Records

image NetApp has long been considered the leader in unified storage (file/block and multi-protocol); however NetApp’s shortcomings have been performance. NetApp’s products, while very popular, are generally believed to be less scalable than EMC’s.

In December 2010, EMC began shipping Enginuity 5875, its new OS code for Symmetrix VMAX. This code includes  FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering) v 2 which includes sub-LUN tiering – a capability that makes  automated tiering more efficient and  useful. At this announcement , it’s likely EMC will be highlighting some of the capabilities embedded in this important code release.

This was evidenced by EMC competitor Mike Riley (Technology Director at NetApp), when he image made his predictions about what EMC’s likely to announce in London:

EMC sales teams have been pushing this in the field for at least the past month that I’ve seen.  (BTW – discussing roadmaps in my opinion isn’t a bad practice for vendors. The understanding is that roadmaps run flawlessly on overhead projectors all overthe world.  Customers often want to know what’s next and the VNX is what’s next for EMC).

While I think EMC seems to be focusing initial ads on performance, I don’t believe that’s what EMC will really sell.  The performance bit is just a distraction.  Kind of like an elaborate magic act.  Vendors constantly leapfrog each other with benchmarks.  What’s more revealing is what’s missing from a benchmark or a missing benchmark.  Oh – and, customers who say performance isn’t important will still use performance as a decision criteria.  Who are we kidding?  Performance always matters.  I’m not dismissing the performance angle entirely. I think EMC will use the performance headlines to get more meetings, but once in the meeting will zero in on simplicity of management.

Mike covers his bases well – admitting there will be a bit of record-breaking and one-upmanship going on, but saying that it’s also a little bit of a head-fake, meaning he knows there’s other aspects as of yet undiscovered to this announcement.  NetApp is a fierce competitor to EMC and has been trying eat EMC’s dinner for years.

According to one individual familiar with EMC’s strategy, whereas NetApp uses a single operating system (called WAFL  – Write Anywhere File Layout) it is unlikely EMC would take the step to try and re-write  its entire OS code for 2  products with large installed bases – and risk disrupting the customer base.  It’s more likely that EMC will unify the hardware and certain storage management software (i.e. single pane of glass management).

Update:  @Kappy Eric Kaplan points out a correction in the above paragraph.

@Kappy Eric Kaplan: @furrier the NTAP OS is not WAFL, that’s their file system. Data OnTap is the OS.

My response to @Kappy

@Kappy In checking with some of my tech buddies I asked if this was the case. I got the following as response. “sure – but as you know, the core piece of technology in ONTAP is the WAFL file system… ONTAP was built around WAFL and WAFL is NetApp’s core differentiation…Without WAFL ONTAP has very little competitive advantage.”

The stakes are high as the external storage market is forecast to  generate between $25-50B worldwide in 2011. EMC, according to several market researches has the leading share with more than 25% of the market,  while NetApp is growing faster than any of the largest conpetitors.

image According to industry analysts, NetApp has been wildly successful by bringing a product to market that handles block and file, and multiple protocols, in the same system using the same OS. But it wouldn’t make sense for EMC to try and copy NetApp’s blueprint exactly. EMC and NetApp are coming from different historical perspectives with different installed bases. Their customers have different performance profiles and  industry mixes. Having said that, clearly there’s pressure for companies to simplify infrastructure and what’s happening is EMC is trying to close the gap on NetApp’s simplicity advantage while at the same time preserving its own performance edge.

“Historically, the EMC customers I speak with have chosen to separate their block and file workloads. In fact, often they’re even managed by separate teams. Most of these customers are under tremendous pressure to cut their costs and they’re  looking at virtualization as a way to simplify infrastructure. If EMC can deliver a block and file storage solution with multiple protocols (e.g. Ethernet and FC) in a single platform, these customers would be able to take advantage of that and make some nice efficiency gains.” says David Vellante, Sr. Analyst and cofounder of Wikibon.org.

Two More Predictions…

1. Something around the cloud. According to analysts EMC may also be introducing new capabilities around its ATMOS object storage platform to support cloud storage, expected to be a hot trend in  2011. We could see improved ATMOS performance and possibly partnerships from new cloud service providers.

2. Something around data protection. Several observers are expecting something in the data protection and data protection software space. Some experts SA spoke with thought EMC might be announcing something around its RecoverPoint software area, software to do  continuous data protection to lower recovery point objectives. Or some said that EMC may make some announcements in the backup area – Data Domain and/or Avamar.

We’ll find out what the real deal is when we meet with the EMC team in NYC and London.  It will be interesting to get the input from Ben Woo and Matt Eastwood of IDC, Teri McClure of ESG, Deni Connor of SSG, and David Hill of Mesabi Group.  I’m sure they will all have a good angle on this.

[Editor’s Note: All photography by Ricky McGill / SiliconANGLE. –mrh]

About John Furrier

Founder and CEO of SiliconAngle.com.