EMC Preps Software-Defined VNX Array, Ships New VNXe Entry Array

EMC Wednesday unveiled Project Liberty, a plan to turn its VNX midrange storage array into a virtual array that could run in a cloud or potentially on commodity server hardware.

The storage giant also updated its VNXe entry-level storage array with better-performing hardware and storage along with several enterprise storage capabilities found in its higher-priced arrays. EMC also said data at rest in its VNX2 array series in the future will be encrypted.

The news comes in advance of the annual EMC World conference scheduled to begin this Monday in Las Vegas.

[Related: Is Software-Defined Storage For Real Or A Lot Of Hot Air?]

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Project Liberty, which the company said will result in a software-defined VNX array, is part of a new breed of software-defined storage that gives customers increased agility and freedom in hybrid cloud environments, said Jon Siegal, senior director of product marketing at EMC, Hopkinton, Mass.

"It leverages the functions of VNX but lets it be deployed on a virtual server, in a remote site, and in the cloud," Siegal said.

Project Liberty also could be used to create virtual arrays directly on commodity servers, although there are no concrete plans to do so at this time, he said.

The idea of a software-defined VNX array fits with EMC's plans to be a leader in the software-defined storage market. EMC, along with VMware, the virtualization heavyweight that is mainly owned by EMC, are working on technologies to develop software-defined data centers that could one day see server, storage and networking functionality all defined by storage regardless of from where the underlying hardware is sourced.

A software-defined VNX array could be used for test and development, letting customers quickly spin up a virtual array to test new application functionality and then move the workload to a hardware VNX when ready, he said.

No timeline or pricing is available for Project Liberty, Siegal said. It is, however, slated to be available in the next year or two, he added.

While Project Liberty seems to be an interesting new direction for EMC, the big question is who will want to take advantage of it, said Keith Norbie, director of server, virtualization and storage for the Eastern U.S. at Technology Integration Group (TIG), a San Diego-based solution provider and EMC partner.

"VMware has hinted that its VSA [Virtual Storage Appliance] has not sold well," Norbie said. "The market has been a tough sell for storage software-based appliances."

NEXT: Finding The Right Environment For Project Liberty

Because EMC's VNX is more of a scale-up architecture instead of a scale-out solution, using software-defined storage implementations of VNX could be hard in multitenant cloud environments, Norbie said.

"It would need a specific architecture in which to work, so we'll have to see how it plays out," Norbie said. "But customers could use it with a couple of servers to replace a SAN. Or perhaps they could use it to get storage systems with the same personalities sitting on-premise and in the cloud or remote office or in a hosted data center."

Project Liberty could be an important transition tool for customers looking to move to the cloud while maintaining control of their data sets, said Michael Thomaschewski, director for storage and data management at Long View Systems, a Calgary, Alberta-based solution provider and EMC partner.

"My understanding is, EMC is not stopping with a virtual VNX array," Thomaschewski said. "The company is looking at virtual Recovery Point or virtual Isilon arrays. It's a huge advancement for clients in the cloud."

Bringing virtual storage appliances to the cloud is essential to help prevent vendor lock-in with hardware, Thomaschewski said. "A customer could be in the cloud on a virtual VNX and run a virtual Recovery Point device. And if a cloud closes, like Nirvanix did, such an architecture could help alleviate the issue. If you have a virtual storage appliance in Amazon, and another in the Microsoft cloud, you increase availability."

On the entry storage side, EMC Wednesday upgraded its VNXe entry-level storage array, which Siegal said supports three times the number of virtual machines, virtual desktops, Microsoft SQL transactions, and Exchange mailboxes when compared with the current VNXe 3150.

The new VNXe3200 brings EMC's MCx multicore optimization technology to entry-level arrays, Siegal said.

MCx multicore optimization features dynamic core utilization that levels the various tasks of the VNX, including RAID, I/O, cache, data services and management, across multiple processor codes rather than running each task in its own core to increase performance.

The VNXe3200 array also can now be deployed in less than 15 minutes using a Wizard-based interface and EMC's Unisphere management software, and provides instant access to support via its new EMC Connect Proactive Support solution, he said.

The system also provides unified NAS and SAN functionality and is fully integrated with both VMware and Microsoft virtualization and storage environments, he said.

EMC also plans to introduce new VSPEX reference architectures featuring the VNXe3200, including architectures for VMware or Microsoft private clouds, virtual desktops, Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint, Siegal said.

NEXT: Finding The Right Environment For VNXe3200

SMBs tend to be faster adopters of virtualization than larger businesses, and as a result tend to pack a large number of virtual servers on fewer physical servers than their larger counterparts, Norbie said. As a result, they need all the performance they can get from their storage arrays.

"EMC's MCx multicore optimization technology gave the VNX a big performance boost, and should do so with the VNXe as well," he said. "It's not the answer for all performance requirements, but adds performance in combination with other features of the arrays."

EMC has done a good job with the VNXe3200, said David Gottesman, principal at Gottesman Consulting, a San Francisco-based solution provider and EMC channel partner.

"From an EMC standpoint, we're pleased with the VNXe3200," Gottesman said. "But there's a lot of competition EMC has to address."

The biggest issue with EMC at the entry level is the difficulty in right-sizing arrays for customers, especially when compared with startup competitors such as Nimble Storage or Tegile, Gottesman said.

"You can get stuck in terms of storage size," he said. "If you don't know what the customer wants, you can get stuck in a corner. The VNXe is hard to upgrade. But it has a lot of neat features. It's a good fit for people comfortable with EMC's management software for smaller-scaling applications."

Thomaschewski said that in the entry storage market, customers have had to look to midmarket storage solutions to get certain feature sets and reach minimum performance requirements.

"The VNXe has always been underpowered," he said. "The new VNXe3200 addresses that market."

Another problem with VNXe in general is that its deployment has been dumbed down to the point where the average person can use it, Thomaschewski said. "Storage administrators are used to granular setup," he said. "VNXe has a more script-based setup."

The MCx multicore optimization technology will be welcomed by SMBs because of the increased performance and scalability it promises, Thomaschewski said.

"If you look at the highest-end VNX2 with multicore, you'll see performance of up to 2 million IOs per second," he said. "So with the VNXe and multicore, we'll probably see some overlap in performance with the entry-level VNX models."

EMC Wednesday also unveiled Data-At-Rest-Encryption to its VNX2 line, Siegal said.

Data-At-Rest-Encryption, which is slated to ship in the third quarter, is controller-based encryption, Siegal said. "It encrypts all the data on the array regardless of drive type," he said. "For any VNX2 arrays already shipped, just add the new software. It's a nondisruptive upgrade."