Today, EMC announced several major enhancements for the Celerra platform. Taken individually, they're interesting.
But taken together, I think this announcement shows just how far NAS technology has evolved in the past few years. If you haven't been paying attention to what these platforms can now do, maybe you could use a refresher?
What You Need To Know
NAS has always been about having an effective place to store your files. Sure, we've seen block-mode emulations on NAS, and we've seen people put smaller databases and such on NAS devices, but -- far and away -- it's always been about files: lots and lots of files.
The structure of the NAS market has been the same for a while. There are two large competitors with the majority of market share (EMC and NetApp), with EMC being ahead in total revenue for quite some time, according to IDC.
This legendary industry rivalry means that we have a convenient measuring stick to compare and contrast what EMC is doing with NAS platforms against what NetApp is doing. Stay tuned, I'm sure they'll having something to say about this latest announcement.
One thing you'll notice when you look at both vendors is that we tend to solve the same sort of problem in different ways, usually as a result of the different engineering philosophies found at the two companies
As one example, NetApp intermixes snap data in the same volume, and EMC creates separate areas for retained snap data -- each approach has pros and cons. EMC does native FC from the underlying CLARiiON or DMX array, NetApp emulates FC disks on top of their file system.
Again, each approach has a different set of strengths and weaknesses.
So, let's take a look at what's in this latest release, shall we?
Making Files Go Really, Really Fast
Performance is an ever-popular topic in NAS. Sometimes it's making big files go fast, other times it's about aggregate performance, or lots of random file opens, or ...
No matter how you think of NAS performance, there are some excellent goodies in this release.
First, consider the awesome NS-G8 ("gate", get it?) -- up to 8 blades (each with dual quad-core Xeons), and the ability to support a mind-numbing 32 10GbE interfaces, running either NAS or iSCSI -- and! -- an additional 32 native FC back-end channels (4Gb FC today, 8Gb and FCoE tomorrow).
You'll have to admit, that's a heckuva lot of crunch if you need big NAS horsepower -- probably the largest and most powerful single NAS device available in the industry today.
Second, all of the new Celerra unified platforms (as opposed to gateways) are based on the brand-spanking-new CLARiiON CX4 family - arguably the most up-to-date and highest-performing mid-tier array in the industry right now.
And, since CLARiiON supports EFDs (enterprise flash drives), we now have this very special performance sauce available now Celerra to complement what's already available on the DMX and CLARiiON.
Much has been said about EFDs already in the storage community (and more will certainly be said!), but it's hard to argue with the simple elegance of popping in a few compatible storage devices that offers 30x the IOPS of any rotating disk drive.
If you're only looking for huge memory caches (as opposed to EFDs), consider the DMX family as back-end storage -- unlike competitive approaches, the DMX sports an enormous non-volatile cache that can be used for reads *and* writes.
Caches can only help with portions of the overall performance equation, though. These EFDs go much, much further and deliver a level of blistering performance that can't be matched by clustering approaches, or read-only caches.
We also have enhancements to EMC's MPFS (multi-protocol file system) that delivers block-protocol performance while still retaining a filesystem view.
If you'd like to have the ability to deliver spectacular performance in your bag of NAS tricks, you should really take a look at what the newest Celerras can do.
Faster is always better, right?
Making Files Use Less Space
OK, NetApp was early to market with a feature initially called A-SIS which allowed users to deduplicate selected volumes of primary storage. (Minor note: NEC was first with HydraStore, but you don't hear of them much).
Turned out to be a pretty popular feature, by all accounts.
Not to be outdone, EMC invested considerable effort in coming up with a primary dedupe scheme that's we think is a better approach – much easier to use, and we think much more efficient across a wider set of use cases.
At a high level, EMC's approach generally allows larger file systems to be tackled, provides selective filters around what's to be deduped and what's to be left alone, and -- most importantly -- adds a new compression capability that does well in situations where traditional dedupe doesn't do as well.
Digging a bit deeper, you'll also find CPU throttling for the dedupe process, as well as a new technique that allows restores of deduplicated full filesystems without having to pre-allocate full-sized volumes, as has to be done in the NetApp approach.
And, of course, all of this sits behind a slick GUI, so there's no need for a periodic running of a command-line task.
When you dig into the details, you'll notice that we're explicitly not going after attempting to dedupe "hot" data that's usually found in iSCSI and FC LUNs and certain parts of the file system.
That's for a reason -- dedupe processing can get in the way of performance, and we thought there was plenty of room for efficiencies with "cooler" data sets, not to mention the potential futility of trying to find redundancy in data that's continually changing.
Regardless of how you feel about one approach or another, there's now some clear choices for customers around primary data dedupe in NAS environments, and that's a good thing.
Making File Storage More Efficient
Dedupe has now been cleverly integrated into a nice, integrated suite of features that make overall space provisioning more efficient, including virtual (or thin) provisioning for file systems, Automatic Volume Management that will keep an eye on your NAS storage growth for you, and a new Celerra Provisioning Wizard that makes it all easy to use.
It all just works together, which is nice.
It should be noted that the deduplication, SnapSure, virtual provisioning and the Automatic Volume Manager features are all included with every Celerra at no extra charge. Given the competitiveness of the NAS market, I think you'll see other vendors following suit before too long.
Automating File Management
And then there's the challenge of ensuring certain files stay around and are unmodified per compliance policy, as well as the inverse of making sure files are deleted when they're supposed to be.
EMC continues to do well with Centera in tackling this problem at enterprise scale, but not everyone needs a full-scale, dedicated solution to this particular challenge.
So, you'll find some nifty features in Celerra to do the compliance-and-retention thing as a simple extension to the NAS environment, if customers want. There's the ability to selectively choose files to be retained based on metadata, or selectively deleted when they're no longer wanted.
Again, more choice is a good thing.
Better Integration With VMware -- Of Course!
The Celerra is the first of EMC’s platforms to get a killer new capability – automated, integrated VMware Site Recovery Manager failback. Lots of vendors can failover, for now, only EMC can do automated failback.
BTW, EMC appears to lead the VMware SRM storage platform market by a longshot – I've seen data that more than 40% of the SRM customers are using EMC, with the next closest vendor 3x less.
That sort of market penetration means we tend to hear a lot about what customers want. SRM is a game-changer, but the number one feature requested is automated failback.
With this release, we made a Virtual Center plug-in that takes a complex manual process and makes it as automated as the failover by integrating with the Site Recovery Manager database and Celerra Replicator. I think it's the first of its kind -- anywhere.
The plan is to quickly expand it to include all the EMC replication products and platforms. EMC Celerra customers get this for FREE starting today – and everyone we’ve shown it to is blown away. So, if you're doing VMware SRM, be sure to ask for automated failback!
The EMC team also built a Virtual Center plug-in designed to make very rapid scale out of the Virtual Desktop use case easy – blending array-based snapshots and VMware View. All of that gets added to the long, long list of other places where the Celerra directly integrates with VMware.
There's More ...
... but I'm getting tired, and this post is getting pretty long, even by my standards. You could spend many hours poring through all the features and capabilities of the EMC Celerra. More local snap functionality. More remote replication functionality. Integration with policy and quota applications. Etc. etc. etc.
NAS has come a very long way indeed.
Strong competition spurs vendors to bring their best game, and that's what I think you're seeing with this latest Celerra release from EMC.
Let the games begin!