VARs: EMC's VMAXe Fills Storage Gap, But Needs Tweaks

EMC's new VMAXe storage array fills a gap in EMC's storage line between its entry-level and flagship enterprise models, but still needs some final touches, according to some of the vendor's channel partners.

EMC on Wednesday unveiled the VMAXe, an array which fits between its entry-level VNX arrays and its VMAX line of mission-critical storage arrays.

The VMAXe is based on the same mission-critical architecture as the VMAX, but features a new hardware and software design, said Fidelma Russo, senior vice president of EMC's enterprise storage division.

It scales to up to four controllers based on Intel multi-core processors, and supports up to 960 hard drives, Russo said. And, unlike the VMAX, it uses single-phase power, making it easy to plug into any data center.

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In terms of software, EMC is including its thin provisioning application, its Symmetrix TimeFinder storage replication application, its Symmetrix Management Console and Performance analyzer, and its PowerPath SE automated path failover software.

Software options include EMC's RecoverPoint software for replicating data between the VMAXe, VNX, VMAX, and non-EMC storage arrays, as well as EMC's FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering) software for managing multiple tiers of storage within the array.

The VMAXe was also designed for ease of use, Russo said. Partners can order and configure a system with just five mouse clicks. "The order is then sent to manufacturing so the system can be configured to order," she said. "When it arrives at the customer site, it can be deployed in only four hours."

Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and long-time EMC partner, said the VMAXe matches customer requirements in the space between EMC's VNX and VMAX lines, and gives the company a way to compete with such vendors as NetApp in that part of the market.

"EMC is leaps and bounds beyond the competition," Shepard said. "The VMAXe has no competition. We have customers who want to upgrade from EMC's Clariion arrays but who don't want the VNX."

Customers looking to run mission-critical applications need the reliability of arrays like EMC's VMAX, which the VMAXe can provide at a lower cost, Shepard said.

However, he said, the VMAXe still needs a few tweaks before it is complete. For instance, while EMC has promised to provide a gateway appliance to allow customers to store file-based data on the VMAXe, an integrated unified SAN-NAS solution such as the VNX array would be preferable. "Without integrated unified storage, I agree is sounds a bit strange," he said.

EMC introduced its first unified storage technology with the January release of its VNX array.

Shepard said he would also like to see integrated scale-out storage capabilities similar to those of EMC's Isilon line, where the compute and network bandwidth of the storage expands in parallel with the capacity. However, he said, he expects that capability to eventually be added to the VMAXe.

Eric Kaplan, vice president of engineering at Ahead, a Chicago-based data center strategy and consulting firm, said the VMAXe has a lot of growth potential because of its advanced VMAX features.

"It's a great play for EMC to take the VMAX's 20 years of experience and wrap around it a new level of ease of use," Kaplan said. "I like How EMC does the configuration before it's shipped."

Kaplan said he expects EMC over time to integrate unified storage capability into the VMAXe, or at least consider adding it.

"EMC will have to come up with a strategy because customers have mixed workloads with both file and block storage," he said.

Next: EMC Addressing Concerns

EMC's Russo said that EMC for now is addressing the question of unified storage with an optional gateway for now.

"This is because the initial target of the VMAXe is the entry point of the high-end market," she said. "And I can't comment on our future plans."

The new VMAXe now gives EMC a total of four different hardware platforms for its primary storage products, including the entry-level VNXe and VNX arrays and the higher-end VMAXe and VMAX arrays.

Russo countered any concerns about supporting multiple hardware platforms by saying that EMC has different products to serve different parts of the market. "One size does not fit all," she said.