EMC Adds Flash Drives, Thin Provisioning To Flagship Arrays


EMC on Monday said it plans two major enhancements to its flagship Symmetrix DMX-4 array family: solid-state hard drives based on flash memory, and thin provisioning.

The moves come as EMC explores ways to make the DMX line more accessible to the channel, said Bob Wamback, senior director of storage product marketing for the Hopkinton, Mass.-based storage vendor.

EMC is partnering with STEC, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based developer of solid-state drives, to offer 73-Gbyte and 146-Gbyte flash drives as an option on its DMX-4 arrays starting late this quarter, Wamback said.

The flash drives are good for applications such as financial arbitrage where every millisecond of performance counts, Wamback said.

EMC partnered with STEC because of that company's reputation for performance and especially reliability, he said. "The whole key to flash drives is to use technology geared towards performance and reliability," he said. "STEC uses error correction code (ECC) to ensure data wrote into the drive is the same as the data that comes out. And it uses single-layer cell technology for high quality and reliability, so it doesn't have the density of other flash memory."

Wamback said he expects that customers who require the performance of flash drives, which offer 10 times the response times of 15,000-rpm Fibre Channel drives, to order from four to 32 of the drives to go with their SATA and Fibre Channel drives. Most customers will probably configure their flash disk for RAID 5, he said.

Also new with the DMX-4 is thin provisioning, which EMC calls virtual provisioning.

While EMC claims to be the first tier-one storage vendor to offer flash drives with its arrays, it is following arch-rival Hitachi Data Storage in its offering of thin provisioning. HDS added thin provisioning to its storage line last May.

Thin provisioning allows a storage administrator to allocate more capacity to specific applications or users than is physically available under the assumption that not all those applications and users will need the entire allocated space simultaneously. This allows extra physical capacity to be installed at a later date as the total amount of space actually used approaches the current installed capacity.

"Thin provisioning is a way to advertise higher capacity without the need to buy it all at one time," Wamback said. "It ties in with our moves to make the Symmetrix line easier to configure."

EMC previously only offered thin provisioning with its Celerra line.

Thin provisioning will be available as an option late this quarter.

The increase in performance from flash drives and the capacity flexibility from thin provisioning will help EMC move towards taking the DMX to channel partners other than the handful of large systems integrators it currently works with, Wamback said.

"The biggest challenges have been the amount of training involved," he said. "Our Symmetrix channel is not as strong as we'd like it to be. And we've been given pretty strong guidance that we need to move in that direction."