This year most of the attention in the storage world has focused on the new shiny all-flash arrays (AFAs). They are fast. They are easy to manage. They scale reasonably well (depending on your perception). But they aren’t the right tool for every problem, even if your storage vendor tries to make it seem so.
Much of the world still runs on large enterprise-class storage arrays, and for good reason. They’ve proven their reliability and capability over the years. They offer more robust data services than other platforms. The downside is that you often pay a hefty expense for that and they are much more complex to manage…but that’s changing very quickly. And you still get the %99.999 reliability.
Back in July EMC officially announced their latest offering in that space, the VMAX3. Why would someone bother when the AFAs are in the spotlight solving all of the world’s ills?
The VMAX3 takes EMC’s enterprise array in a new direction. Even Chad Sakac talked about this in a post. It’s so different that you could easily forgive EMC for changing the name completely, and rumor has it that they almost did. It’s faster. Denser. Much easier to manage. And more flexible. All while having a lower overall cost and still maintaining that rock solid trust that the DMX/Symmetrix/VMAX has earned over the years.
As you would expect the VMAX3 has even better performance than the last generation. The engines are faster. They have more cache, more cores, and there are more front-end ports that are 16Gb. If you compare the last gen to this one you’ll find that you usually only need half the number of engines now than you did before. This leads to smaller footprint and less power/cooling.
And the new disk shelves…. They are also denser so you can do more in less physical space. The picture above is the new really-cool Viking disk shelf that will hold 120 2.5″ drives in 3U of rack space. BTW, this picture is of a disk shelf in the VMAX3 in the Varrow lab! There is also the Voyager shelf that holds 60 3.5″ drives in 4U of rack space. Great density and performance.
You’re also not limited to using special racks anymore. The VMAX3 can fit in standard racks, which has been a request for a while from many customers. EMC has also improved the cabling requirements. Racks can now be up to 25 meters apart which lets you spread them around the datacenter as you see fit.
Before coming to Varrow I was an Enterprise Architect at a large financial institution’s investment bank. While there I sat right next to our storage team and would hear them talk constantly about managing the arrays. Lots of overhead. Lots of complexity. When I’d request storage is a big ordeal to go through and make sure I got the capacity and performance I needed and that it fit within the confines of our configuration. That’s been the way of the enterprise array for a long time but it is changing quickly. Storage teams no longer want to deal with devices, TDATs, Hypers, and Metas. Let the array handle that.
With the VMAX3 you can now provision storage based simply on the required performance. Just decide which tier you want to start with (and you can obviously change it later…) and the VMAX3 will allocate it accordingly and work to keep the levels within the set SLA. This takes FAST to the next level and greatly simplifies configuration and management of the array.
The new VMAX3 runs on a variant of the very reliable Enginuity operating system called HYPERMAX. This new OS allows for a great deal of new features and even more possibilities. One of these new features is a storage hypervisor. If you’ve used other EMC arrays you’re probably familiar with the hardware Data Movers for NAS services. No more. Now the VMAX3 is capable of running virtual Data Mover systems on top of the HYPERMAX hypervisor directly. This is just the first of many very interesting possibilities that EMC is considering for services running on the array itself. Expect to see other services and application-specific offerings in the future.
EMC is also integrating the cloud-tiering capabilities from TwinStrata, whom they acquired earlier this year. This will allow you to tier seldom used storage off to a lower cost public cloud provider allowing for better utilization of the storage array.
Continuing along with better integration points is the new ProtectPoint feature. This greatly simplifies backups off of the VMAX by basically removing the need for backup applications in some circumstances. The VMAX3 can take a snapshot of a volume and then send the changed bits straight over to a Data Domain appliance, without a backup application being involved. This allows for more frequent, granular, backups that are extremely efficient due to Data Domain deduplication.
There has been a lot of talk about the erosion of the true enterprise array market. While I think that this is a bit overblown there is definitely a shift for some customers to new storage offerings based on all flash systems. It all comes down to your requirements and use cases for the storage. Need high performance and basic data services? All flash may be the answer…if you can house your data for the price of flash.
But what if you need more robust replication or your data set doesn’t dedupe well? Need storage for that mainframe, which is a gap for many AFAs? Or, in the words of Chad again, you are trying to keep the zombie apocalypse at bay and that 6-nine reliability is of key importance? That’s where the VMAX family continues to shine.
For pure speed the AFAs solve many problems…but they don’t do it all just yet.
We (Varrow) have had a VMAX3 beta unit in our lab for a while and already have extensive experience with the new system. We’d love to help you through the decision criteria around which next-generation EMC storage platform is right for you and your applications.