iSCSI, flash storage highlight overhaul of EMC's mid-range Clariion system

Clariion provides native support for iSCSI and Fibre Channel SAN connections

EMC embraces iSCSI and flash storage for midrange market with new Clariion system.

EMC Tuesday will ship a new generation of its Clariion midrange storage-area network disk array, which makes support for iSCSI a standard feature, offers new energy-saving software tools and gives customers the option to use flash memory.

CX4, the first overhaul of the Clariion line since May 2006, is significant in part because it "acknowledges that iSCSI is here to stay," says Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters.

Moreover, EMC's decision to add flash drives to midrange storage came surprisingly quickly, just a few months after EMC made flash available on the high-end Symmetrix platform, Peters says. (Compare storage products.) 

"While not unexpected, the speed of this inclusion in EMC's midrange platform is surprising, and will probably force other vendors (for example Sun, NetApp, Hitachi) to compete faster than they might have been planning," Peters writes in a brief on the new Clariion system.

While CX4 is on the market now, EMC won't make the flash drives available until October.

Sun, for its part, has said it will embed flash storage in nearly every type of server it offers by year-end.

With iSCSI, EMC is making support for this SAN protocol a standard part of all CX4 systems, just like Fibre Channel. Previously, iSCSI was not available on the highest-end Clariion box and had to be purchased separately on the lower-tier Clariion systems.

Now, "any customer who purchases CX4 will get both [Fibre Channel and iSCSI] protocols," says EMC storage product marketing director Barry Ader.

EMC is also introducing what it calls UltraFlex, which will make it easier for customers to upgrade to emerging technologies such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet, iSCSI over 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and 8Gbps Fibre Channel. Customers will be able to upgrade by purchasing new I/O modules from EMC, rather than an entire new storage system, Ader says.

The CX4 can scale up to nearly a petabyte. There are four models, the 120, 240, 480 and 960, with the number indicating the number of drives in each system. Each drive can be as large as a terabyte.

Despite being called mid range, "this is getting to be a pretty big box," Peters says.

The least expensive Clariion, with five Fibre Channel drives and management software, starts at $31,000. With systems ranging to as many as 960 drives, the price can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, Ader says.

Flash drives are only available on the 480- and 960-drive versions. This was Peters' only criticism of EMC -- why no flash drives for entry-level customers?

"If you're a 250-terabyte shop, why shouldn't you have flash drives? Why shouldn't you have high I/O?" Peters noted in a phone interview.

According to EMC, flash drives provide as much as 30 times faster Input/Output operations Per Second (IOPS) than spinning disks, while costing 22 times as much.

While flash is more energy efficient than rotating disk drives, several new software features in the CX4 will help increase storage utilization rates on standard disks and thus reduce energy waste, EMC says. These include virtual provisioning, or thin provisioning, technology that lets an IT person present an application with more storage capacity than is physically allocated to it. This feature enhances the flexibility customers are already gaining by using server virtualization technology from vendors such as the EMC-owned VMware.

"With new Clariion Virtual Provisioning, capacity can be quickly and easily allocated for physical, VMware and other virtual servers," EMC says in a press release. This virtual provisioning technology was originally designed for EMC's Celerra IP storage system, and was adapted for Clariion.

Clariion also is benefiting from a "spin down" technology borrowed from EMC's Disk Library virtual tape system, which automatically puts inactive drives into sleep mode. More new features include low-power SATA drives and an optimized cooling system that speeds up fans when processors get hot and then automatically slows them down when the extra cooling power is no longer needed.

CX4 also includes various performance enhancements, with a 64-bit operating system utilizing dual- and quad-core processors. The bottom line is CX4 offers double the capacity, memory, performance and amount of logical unit numbers  over previous Clariion models, EMC says.

Learn more about this topic

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