EMC's New Centera Array Aimed At Storing Content As Objects


EMC's new Centera is aimed at storing fixed content, which company officials claim includes about 75 percent of all stored data. Fixed content includes things like check and medical images, video and audio files, electronic documents, and other items which, once stored, are not changed.

The content, instead of being stored as a file or block data as is common with most storage arrays, is stored as an object, said Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis for EMC. When the object is stored, a unique digital key is hashed from the data which allows anyone with the key to access the content. A second copy is kept in another part of the array as a way to ensure the file does not become corrupted, he said.

Centera is a hard-disk-based array that allows files to be accessed at sub-second speeds but is priced at near tape prices, said Steinhardt. Pricing for the array with 5.0 Tbytes of usable capacity and 5.0 Tbytes of capacity for backup images starts at $207,000. Extra storage nodes with four 160-Gbyte hard drives and an 850MHz Pentium 3 processor with 256 Mbytes of RAM are available for expandability.

Each cabinet can be configured with a maximum of 10 Tbytes of usable capacity. Up to 16 cabinets can be connected vie Gigabit Ethernet in a cluster, and up to seven clusters can be scaled into a Centera Domain of over one Pbyte of usable capacity, all without shutting the system down, Steinhardt said.

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Kevin Reith, manager of strategic technology at Info Systems, a Wilmington, Del.-based solution provider, said the Centera will fit right in his company's two main vertical markets: finance and health care.

Thanks to new government regulations as well as increased demand from patients, people are storing ever larger images, including bone scans and CAT scans, making Centera a good choice for these areas, said Reith. "For a lot of these images, doctors have storage or transport problems," he said. "There are always delays to access of these images."

It could also be used for places like AOL or singles services where a user might see a screenful of thumbnail-sized images and ask to click on an image for a larger version, which Reith said is typically stored in another array and takes some time to download. "The price seems aggressive," he said. "I could see it also replacing optical storage."

John Cugliari, vice president of sales at Piedmont Technology Group, Charlotte, N.C., said the price point for Centera is not out of line for clients considering tape libraries. However, he said he was concerned with what software would be needed and how closely EMC would tie itself to clients in the services area.

He need not worry, said Steinhardt. Centera was designed with APIs, which can be used with third-party applications. And while EMC personnel will be involved initially in the installation, over time he expects such services will probably be opened to partners as they become familiar with the product.

Clients have a choice of maintenance programs, Steinhardt said. Since multiple copies of the data are kept, and the Centera has a modular design with internal fail-over capabilities, most clients will only require a twice-yearly visit from technicians to check the system. A traditional 24x7 program is also available as an option. "This is the first time we have ever departed from our traditional premium support, but there's so much self-healing capability it shouldn't be a problem," he said.

The Centera technology came to EMC via File Pool, a Belgium company EMC acquired two years ago. "They had been using this technology for their internal use to offer similar storage services to their customers," said Steinhardt. "We looked at their technology, and we thought we could productize it."