EMC combines Clariion, Celerra into VNX unified storage

EMC VNX is the result of the long-awaited consolidation of its Clariion SAN and Celerra NAS platforms into a unified storage system that will sharpen the competition with NetApp.

When EMC Corp. unveils its VNX unified storage platform Tuesday, it will sharpen the competition with NetApp – which offers block and file capabilities in its FAS platform – and kick off a debate over what is truly a unified system.

EMC hasn't briefed media members on the new release, allowing its competitors to frame the debate in the week leading to the launch. NetApp bloggers and executives have taken the opportunity to position themselves as unified pioneers and hail their FAS systems as true unified storage and say EMC is merely following their lead.

But while EMC has been silent, SearchStorage.com has obtained product sheets EMC issued on the VNX models, and gathered more information by talking to industry insiders who have been briefed by EMC and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

EMC's marketing materials position the VNX as its next generation of midrange systems, combining Clariion CX4 and Celerra NS into one brand. The system is more of a logical successor to Celerra, which already supported block and file storage, while Clariion was a block storage (Fibre Channel and iSCSI) platform. The real heavy lifting for consolidation of the brands came last August when EMC launched its Unisphere management software for both Clariion and Celerra, as well as FAST automated tiered storage and block compression for primary data.

Fibre Channel, iSCSI, NAS, object storage in one box

The VNX platform consists of the VNX7500 and four configurations of the VNX5000 series. The VNX7500 is the first member of a 7000 series. The launch also includes VNXe3100 and VNXe3300 storage systems for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

The VNX7500 replaces the Clariion CX4-960 and Celerra NS-960 at the high end of EMC's midrange offerings. The VNX5000 systems replace the CX4-480, CX4-240, CX4-120 and Clariion AX4 Fibre Channel and NS-480, NS-120 systems. VNXe systems replace the AX4 iSCSI and NX4 systems.

The VNX5000 systems range from the VNX5100 with 75 maximum drives to the VNX5700 with 500 drives. The VNX7500 can hold 100 drives. The systems support 3.5-inch Flash solid-state, 6 Gbps SAS and NL-SAS capacity drives, and 2.5-inch SAS and Flash drives will be supported in future releases. All the midrange systems have two controllers.

The midrange systems support file (NFS, CIFS, pNFS), block (Fibre Channel, iSCSI) and object storage, and EMC software such as its FAST automated tiering and RecoverPoint replication support block and file data. EMC is renaming FAST as FAST VP (Virtual Pools) for both the VNX and Symmetrix high-end enterprise family. EMC also claims simple conversions when going from block-only or file-only systems to unified systems.

EMC will rebrand its G2 and G8 Celerra Gateways as the VNX Gateways. The gateways can sit behind up to four VNX, Clariion or EMC Symmetrix VMAX systems in any combination.

SMB storage for less than $10,000

The VNXe3100 is a 2U NAS system that supports NFS, CIFS and pNFS, and holds a maximum of 96 drives; the VNXe3300 is a 3U iSCSI system with up to 120 drives. The VNXe3100 is available with one or two controllers, two or four SAS ports, and two or four Gigabit Ethernet ports. The VNXe3300 has two controllers, four SAS and eight GbE ports. EMC's marketing materials claim the VNXe entry-level price will be less than $10,000.

Is EMC leading or following NetApp?

EMC claims advantages over NetApp in the inclusion of object storage, automated tiering, and block and file compression (NetApp includes data deduplication for primary file storage). VNX includes code from Clariion Flare and Celerra Dart operating systems, but it's not clear if VNX uses two separate operating systems. Flare and Dart will be called VNX Operating Environment for File and VNX Operating Environment for Block on the new systems. Another question EMC will have to answer Tuesday is whether customers have to do forklift upgrades to move to a larger VNX system.

While still the networked storage market leader, EMC has been losing share to NetApp over the past year in the midrange, and many in the industry see the unified systems as a step to stem NetApp's gains.

"EMC started its unification with Celerra, and it's putting together a clean version of all the unified efforts that have been going on in the last year and half or so," said one storage insider who has been briefed on VNX. "EMC is cleaning it up for people who are saying 'NetApp has unified, EMC doesn't so EMC sucks.'"

Patrick Rodgers, NetApp's vice president of solutions and alliances, said EMC is following NetApp down the unified path, but questions if VNX is as unified as FAS.

"EMC coming out with this message now is an acknowledgement of where the market wants to go, and what customers want," Rodgers said. "But unified is a many-splendored term. We see it as a single storage pool, where I can assign whatever protocol I want to with no need to migrate data. I can manage data across that storage pool, independent of protocol, and apply features like thin provisioning and deduplication uniformly."

He added: "Is this anything more than taking a Clariion controller and Celerra controller and putting them in a single box with two software stacks? Do they have deduplication for block and file? Do they have thin provisioning for block and file?"

Another industry insider said EMC doesn't have to answer yes to all those questions for VNX to qualify as unified. The source called VNX "a ho-hum announcement because the software they brought out last year is what ties it all together," but calls it unified nonetheless.

"There are two separate controllers in a single box, but from a user point of view, it's one management interface, not two," he said. "It's unified to the user regardless of how EMC does it. People don't care what the interface is. If you want NAS, you have NAS. If you want Fibre Channel, you have Fibre Channel. If you want iSCSI, you have iSCSI. The interface protocol is irrelevant."

What's new with VMAX? 

EMC will apparently make more news than just VNX Tuesday. At the end of a blog dated Sunday comparing VMAX to Hitachi Data Systems' Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) , EMC Symmetrix chief strategy officer Barry Burke wrote: "On Tuesday, January 18th, 2011, EMC will announce new record-breaking products in several areas – including VMAX. … VMAX is bringing new features, new performance and better efficiency to its installed base and new customers."

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