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April 17, 2005

EMC launches NAS dreadnought

Only days after IBM and Hitachi announced plans to enter the fast growing NAS market in earnest, EMC has stepped up its efforts in the sector by launching its biggest yet file-level storage device.

By CBR Staff Writer

Called the Celerra NSX, the device will strengthen EMC’s existing command of the high-end of the NAS market, and put pressure on Network Appliance EMC’s only major NAS rival – to speed the implementation of the big-box technology it bought into with startup Spinnaker, which has the potential to outclass even this latest EMC device.

The NSX will ship next month, and follows last year’s rework to EMC’s midrange NAS devices, which significantly increased their competitiveness. So far NetApp has held off EMC’s NAS attack very successfully. In the fourth quarter last year, NetApp saw the largest revenue growth of any large disk supplier, with a 30% yearonyear increase. For the full year the company scored a 37% share of the NAS market, ahead of EMC with 33% share.

But EMC is continuing its efforts. NetApp used to have an edge in the NAS midrange, but the changes EMC made to its hardware last year strengthened its portfolio. With the NSX they’ve shot past NetApp in a very nice way, said Arun Taneja, analyst at the Taneja Foundation.

The NSX comes with updates to EMC’s NAS operating system, called Dart. Among other things the latest version of Dart sees EMC eliminate a weakness by raising its maximum file size from 2TB to 16TB, increases configuration automation to suit tiered storage or application workloads, introduces file system capacity monitoring, and adds iSCSI support. EMC has also launched an addition to its existing tools for moving data from its NAS boxes to its Centera disk archive.

But size and ease of scalability are the most important features of the new box, which involves a complete new hardware architecture.

This will be our biggest NAS release this year. We think it’s going to set the bar further out, said Tom Joyce, EMC’s vice president of storage platform marketing. The CNX scales from four to eight blades or controllers in n+1 failover, with a maximum throughput of 300,000 NFS IOPS, compared to what EMC said is only around 70,000 IOPS for NetApp’s largest 980C gateway. NetApp was unable to confirm this figure by press time.

The NSX takes you from 45,000 IOPS to 300,000 IOPS almost linearly by adding blades. That’s very good for customers, said Taneja. The biggest users of very large NAS devices are in the niche scientific sector, but EMC said that there are increasing numbers of commercial customers consolidating file storage. It’s the large consolidation projects that are the opportunity, Joyce said.

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CNS has already made an important contribution to EMC’s NAS revenues, according to Joyce. It’s less than 50%, but it’s been a significant proportion for the last few years. We’re not talking about a single digit percentage. It’s a real market, he said. Added to this is increasing low end competition from Windows-powered NAS for NetApp and EMC’s proprietary NAS devices, leaving the midrange and high end as their best bets in NAS.

Clustering eight blades in an NSX gives huge pumping power, but it does not solve the problem that each blade runs separate file systems. A shared file system would eliminate that problem, but Joyce confirmed that the NSX does not involve such technology.

The NSX is still eight separate NAS devices, he said. That is even though the NSX introduces something called Nested Mounts, which virtualizes multiple CIFS and NFS file systems within each blade into single file systems. The NSX can also be used as a root server in Microsoft’s Distributed File System which analysts says is similar to, but not as effective as a full-on shared file system.

NetApp acquired a shared file system that runs across multiple nodes when it bought Spinnaker, and this technology is the future of large scale NAS computing. But NetApp has yet to combine that file system with its existing OnTap operating system, and is vague about when it will do so.

Joyce said that EMC is also working in this area. We’re looking at it, but it’s harder than it looks. NetApp have backed down on their schedule for integrating Spinnaker, and have made it clear that the technology merger is not simple.

Taneja said that NetApp has not been pushing Spinnaker’s products, which run a different operating system to the rest of NetApp’s gear. NetApp itself implicitly confirmed this when its president Tom Mendoza told ComputerWire last November: The beauty is, we don’t need that [Spinnaker] revenue.

As EMC strengthens its appeal to large commercial customers that have big NAS consolidation projects, NetApp may change its stance and start pushing the Spinnaker system, even though it does not yet work with NetApp’s OnTap-based data management tools. It may also be spurred to work faster on the port the Spinnaker file system to OnTap, something that when completed could see it leapfrog past EMC at the high end of NAS.

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