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EMC To Bridge Server, Storage Gap With Project Lightning

EMC wants applications to be able to migrate between compute-intensive and storage-intensive environments with its upcoming Project Lightning PCIe-based Flash technologies for servers.

That technology, for now called "Project Lightning," represents EMC's first foray into the server-based Flash storage business, said Pat Gelsinger, president of information infrastructure products at EMC.

However, said Joe Tucci, EMC chairman and CEO, Project Lightning does not represent a move by EMC to enter the server business.

The new technology is a way to run certain applications in storage, which Tucci said at a question-and-answer session during the EMC World conference is a far cry from EMC becoming a server vendor.

"That's a whole different set of apps that are different from the naked server business, which we are not going into," Tucci said.

Project Lightning stems from the fact that different applications require different compute and storage portfolios, Gelsinger said.

Some applications require relatively little compute power to handle a lot of data, while others require a lot of compute power to handle smaller amounts of data. EMC wants to bring compute power to storage and storage capacity to compute-intensive environments easily in order to balance the two resources, he said.

Under Project Lightning, EMC is introducing a new PCIe Flash-based server cache to move data closer to the processor, Gelsinger said. By extending EMC's Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) technology to that cache, it will also serve as a high-performance direct-attach storage device, he said.

Chad Sakac, vice president of the VMware technology alliance at EMC, said that Project Lightning could be used to move virtual machines depending on storage requirements.

Sakac said customers will be able to use VMware's Vmotion capability to migrate a workload from one type of server resource. For instance, a workload which is compute-intensive could be migrated to a server with more compute power to decrease the latency, while a workload which is more storage intensive could be migrated to a servers with more heavy-duty storage capabilities to reduce bandwidth.

Eventually, such migrations could be done automatically depending on company policies, Sakac said.

Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and long-term EMC partner, said that while EMC has yet to provide much detail about Project Lightning, it does seem to be that vendor's way to push back against companies like Fusion-io which provide server-based Flash-based cache to increase storage performance.

However, from what has been shown so far, EMC seems to be looking to add a new tier of storage, one that is faster than Tier Zero, which is the common industry-wide designation for the use of SSDs in storage devices to increase storage performance, Norbie said.

"EMC seems to have a strategy to migrate workloads between servers and storage," he said. "Without saying it directly, EMC seems to be saying there is a higher performance level of storage outside the storage controller that's faster than Tier Zero. Maybe it's Tier Minus-One."

Project Lightning is expected to become available later this year, Gelsinger said.

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