EMC Ups the Ante On Enterprise Storage

"First came the bus [architecture]. Then came the switch," said Joe Tucci, president and CEO of EMC during his presentation in New York. "Now we have taken another leap, and we are incredibly excited about this. This will revolutionize high-end storage. We are going to set a totally new benchmark for price/performance."

The Hopkinton, Mass.-based company unveiled the new Symmetrix DMX series yesterday morning at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, at Park Avenue and Grand Central Station. And while the event lacked the circus-like pizzazz that typified most of these launches during the dot-com era, Monday's event was attended heavily by several hundred customers and members of the Wall Street community.

EMC executives displayed several million dollars of gear across their vast hardware product line, before bringing forth the sleek Direct Matrix products. EMC engineers took on the challenge of designing a new architecture sometime in 1999. Brian Gallagher, one of the more than 12 engineers who worked on the project, said the innovation challenge they faced was less in the physical layer and more in the logical layer.

"We really looked at the problem differently," he explained. "Then we figured out how to physically do it, using standard, off-the-shelf components. But we had to invent the logical layer."

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The DMX devices include what EMC officials call the first high-end modular structure. In addition, the subsystems do not use the traditional bus system -- which many liken to a single highway within a system in which all data flows through -- or the switch design that rival Hitachi Data Systems uses for its competing Lightening and Thunder subsystems. EMC's long-standing Symmetrix line -- the one credited with creating the storage market -- uses a bus system.

But DMX uses neither. Executives said this is the first design on the market that "is non-blocking and non-sharing." Internally, the device gives each front-end controller its own direct path through the cache to the back-end controller. Theoretically, the subsystems' future versions can grow to provide up to 128 GB of cache, with up to 32 independent cache regions, and provide up to 32 concurrent 500-Mbps paths through cache, with up to 16 GBps of aggregate cache throughput. The architecture can handle up to 32 independent cache regions, each with a separate logic access,. This enables IT managers to adjust the processing and access power necessary to each application.

Dave Donatelli, EMC's executive vice president of Storage Platform Operations, said it was the largest project the company has ever done, with 300 million hours of run-time in beta testing. They also have more than a dozen patents in the application process for this design.

"We looked at the bus, and we felt it could not go far enough. We also looked at a switch architecture," he said. "In fact, we patented one, but we also felt it could not go far enough. The idea was, if I wanted to build a road, what road would I build? I would want one that, when I get out of my house, I would have my own dedicated road."

The DMX line has three device levels, which include the modular, rack-mountable Symmetrix DMX800 that can be configured with 16 to 120 drives for a raw capacity of up to 17.5 TB. It has 16 2-Gigabit Fibre Channel ports, 16 2-Gigabit Fibre Channel I/O ports and 32 GB of cache. On the higher end, the monolithic Symmetrix DMX 1000 and the Symmetrix DMX2000 subsystems are integrated, single-bay configurations with more cache and connectivity. The 2000 features 96 to 288 drives for a maximum capacity of 42 TB, while the 1000 features 48 to 144 drives for a maximum of 21 TB. All of the devices are based on the Enginuity storage operating system.

The DMX design also incorporates 2-Gigabit Fibre Channel disk drive with 16 to 64 drive loops with a maximum of 18 drives per loop. Moreover, it has new eight-port, 2-Gigabit Fibre Channel and ESCON directors for up to 96 channel connections to more than 8,000 network-connected hosts, according to documents posted on the company's Web site (emc.com). All the previous Symmetrix products internally used a SCSI interface.

And in another departure, EMC now supports parity RAID (3 1 and 7 1) for data stripping with parity. Previously, EMC only supported RAID 0 or 1 for data mirroring. Customers say that EMC finally took on parity RAID because they were getting hurt in the market on the higher costs on their disk drives. Moreover, EMC executives said the direct matrix design actually enhances the power of parity RAID.

Interestingly, Tucci said there was another product that was supposed to be delivered after the current Symmetrix but before the DMX line. But company executives believed the market opportunity for DMX was now. "A year ago, we took a big bet and canceled that project. We bet the farm on the DMX line. This year, we expect to take significant market share," Tucci said.