EMC Announces VNX, But Is CSX What We Should Be Watching?

By January 18, 2011 EMC, NSX, Storage 2 Comments
vnxe

After weeks of marketing centered on “record-breaking performance,” EMC unveiled their new VNX and VNXe mid-range storage platforms this morning. Here are a few high-level notes about the release:

  • The VNX is positioned as the next-generation of the CLARiiON (CX) and Celerra (NS) lines
  • The VNXe is positioned as the next-generation of the AX and NX lines
  • Both will still offer only a dual-controller architecture. I personally don’t see this changing any time soon since the VMAX already plays in the scale-out controller architecture arena.
  • The backend is moving from 4Gb FC to four-lane 6Gb SAS
  • Supported drive types will be EFD, SAS, and near-line SAS
  • Software packages have been simplified via bundles and new array-based licensing models

The overall theme of the release is maintaining Enterprise-class high availability and ease of use while dramatically increasing performance along the way. This is being done via the updated SAS backend architecture as well as the more powerful Westmere processors in the Storage Processors and Data Movers. While these are all great advancements, the majority of my customers aren’t making decisions on storage based on scalability of hundreds of thousands of IOPS and 10GB/sec+ of throughput. It is more often that I see customers making decisions on efficiency, ease of use, and application integration.

That being said, what do I find the most exciting about the announcement that EMC made today?

All of the hype from EMC will continue to focus on the larger VNX platform, but everyone should really be paying attention to what is happening on the smaller VNXe platform. While the VNX still uses dedicated Storage Processors for SAN operations and dedicated Data Movers for NAS operations, its little brother VNXe is accomplishing both SAN and NAS via only two controllers. While this is commonplace for some other manufacturers, this is a totally new concept for EMC and gives us a taste of what the future may hold.

So given the fact that EMC runs totally different operating systems for SAN (FLARE) and NAS (DART), how are they finally getting to this single OS model? I haven’t been able to get anyone to specifically answer this yet, but piecing together bits of information, some assumptions can be made as to what they’re up to.

A Google search for EMC and CSX currently only returns about 2 meaningful articles, but they appear to provide information regarding where EMC is going long-term with their mid-range storage arrays. According to Steve Todd’s blog post here, he considers this little-known CSX technology to be the single most meaningful innovation that has happened inside of EMC over the last decade. That’s an awfully bold statement for something nobody has ever heard of. I highly recommend reading Steve’s post as it is one of the more insightful I have seen from inside of EMC in a while.

So what is CSX?

With the limited amount of information publically available on the technology, it would appear that EMC has created an execution environment that can invoke kernel services independent of the Operating System running on the hardware. Couple this with the fact that they have been working towards standardizing hardware in all of their platforms over the last 5 years, this concept would make a lot of sense. Then in order to take advantage of this concept, they have developed an API that is being published to all of the internal groups (Celerra, CLARiiON, Atmos, Centera, RecoverPoint, etc) so that they can develop features that are platform-independent.

So it sounds like EMC has created an execution environment that handles fundamental things such as memory allocation, basic provisioning, drivers, etc. From there, they are layering services that previously depended on Operating Systems such as FLARE and DART on top of it via the published API. It doesn’t appear that EMC has created a full hypervisor, but more of an encapsulation environment for a new code base. If this is true, the idea of CSX does open up a lot of big possibilities, especially if we see it get pushed up the VNX line and above.

With all of the cool software packages and appliances that EMC has in the portfolio, what if you could run all of those as services on a common set of hardware and eliminate the need for disparate platforms? Ultimately this is where we all want to be, right? And with hardware being more and more commoditized each day, isn’t it in EMC’s best interest to focus on software as a true differentiator? Who would have thought…EMC becoming a software-focused company.

Could that be what the future holds? Nobody outside of Hopkinton probably knows the true answer, but on a day when EMC is yelling at the top of their lungs about more performance and bigger, badder, faster hardware, I’d be focusing on what they are doing on the software side—that’s where the really cool things are being very quietly done.

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