Once upon a time -- not so long ago -- you either went file or block. File-level storage meant network-attached storage systems (NAS), where the data was stored and retrieved by a file system. Block-level storage, on the other hand, dealt with writing data directly to disk at a physical level, and it was typically associated with the storage-area network (SAN). Let's keep the explanations at that rather simplistic level as an introduction to EMC's VNX unified storage family, which has consolidated file and block storage onto one device.
VNX marks the end of an era at EMC NYSE: EMC). It has long produced two separate product lines in the midrange -- CLARiiON and Celerra. But with VNX, these have been combined into one line that covers all options.
"EMC has been successful with their previous Celerra and CLARiiON multi-protocol block and file-based packaged solutions, along with their Unisphere management tools for unified management," said Greg Schulz, an analyst with Server and StorageIO Group. "Now EMC is positioned well to move into new markets as well as extend their reach in existing environments."
With continued growth of unstructured data for traditional, virtual and cloud environments, he said, unified SAN and NAS along with multi-protocol interfaces without compromise has become more important for enabling flexibility and agility.
VNX Looks to SMB Storage
VNX ranges from the VNXe devices targeted at small businesses all the way to the VNX7500 with 1,000 drives and up to 2 PB of capacity. At the low end, the VNXe marks a change of emphasis for EMC that has long been synonymous with higher-end storage. EMC has done a good job of moving into the mid-market during the past decade, but it hasn't been a major player at the bottom end. That may change with the VNXe.
"VNXe is simple, efficient, easily configurable and affordable," said EMC President and COO, Pat Gelsinger. "EMC is the low-cost leader in SMB storage."
The VNXe3100, he said, has an entry price of $9,499 -- at least $1,000 lower than the offerings of its big rivals in the SMB space, Dell and NetApp. It has 6 to 96 drives, one or two controllers, 4 GB of RAM per controller and one dual-core Xeon processor.
The VNXe3300 has 2 controllers, 7 to 120 drives, 8 GB of RAM per controller and a Xeon quad-core processor. These boxes are good for SMBs that need perhaps a TB of storage or more. But they really come into their own economically for those in the 100 TB-plus range, and they can scale as high as 240 TB in the case of the VNXe3300.
EMC has also done a good job on the software side, importing its Unisphere management software into the VNXe while eliminating complexity. Three software bundles are available, covering a range of 28 different management and storage functions. Compared to the old days when storage administrators would spend days manually provisioning and configuring storage, these EMC products can be up and running within a few minutes. The GUI is designed so no detailed technical knowledge is required to set up storage volumes, data stores and file shares.
To boost market share, EMC expanded its channel relationships with companies like Ingram and CDW. Clearly, EMC aims to give Dell and NetApp a run for their money.
VNX for the Midrange Portfolio
With this change, the VNX line itself now becomes EMC's consolidated midrange portfolio. There are five versions to from which to choose. All are built around the Xeon 5600 processor series: the VNX5100, 5300, 5500, 5700 and 7500. As well as SAS drives, they also can host flash drives.
The VNX5100 has up to 75 total drives, including the number of flash drives specified by the user. Note: the more flash added, the higher the cost -- solid state drives (SSD) cost considerably more than SAS. 150 TB is its maximum amount of disk capacity.
At the other end of the range, the VNX 7500 is the monster of the bunch. It has up to 1,000 drives with up to 2 PB in storage.
"Based on Intel Westmere processors, VNX is more efficient and higher performing than traditional EMC storage," said Gelsinger. "Applications run three times faster. This is our most exciting midrange product ever."
Users are advised to pay attention to their storage demands, predicted rates of storage growth and decide on the appropriate model. It is less expensive in the long run to buy a higher-end model that can accommodate a couple of years of expansion space as opposed to buying a series of smaller devices each year as capacity gets maxxed out. However, it is far more expensive to purchase a huge box that lies relatively idle for years.
EMC VNX Disk Array Line Up
|Model||Maximum Number of Drives||Drive Types||Hard Drive Capacity||File Protocols||Block Protocols|
|EMC VNX5100||75||FLASH, SAS, NL-SAS||150TB||n/a||FC|
|EMC VNX5300||125||FLASH, SAS, NL-SAS||240TB||NFS, CIFS, MPFS, pNFS||FC, iSCSI, FCoE|
|EMC VNX5500||250||FLASH, SAS, NL-SAS||480TB||NFS, CIFS, MPFS, pNFS||FC, iSCSI, FCoE|
|EMC VNX5700||500||FLASH, SAS, NL-SAS||984TB||NFS, CIFS, MPFS, pNFS||FC, iSCSI, FCoE|
|EMC VNX7500||1000||FLASH, SAS, NL-SAS||1974TB||NFS, CIFS, MPFS, pNFS||FC, iSCSI, FCoE|
|EMC VNXe3100||96||SAS, NL-SAS||192TB||NFS, CIFS||iSCSI|
|EMC VNXe3300||120||SAS, NL-SAS, Flash (planned)||240TB||NFS, CIFS||iSCSI|
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).