EMC 2009 April 14 announcement of Symmetrix VMAX

In Symmetrix, VMAX by Administrator

EMC announces Symmetrix V-Max

EMC has recently announced their latest version of the Symmetrix storage family the V-Max, especially designed for the virtual data center.  The V-Max is a radical departure from earlier Symmetrix generations and now provides a scale out as well as scale up enterprise storage product family.

VMAX defined

EMC’s intent with the Symmetrix V-Max is to provide a more scale-able architecture that can support the varying needs of enterprise storage users in the midst of deploying virtualized environments and to utilize more industry-standard hardware components.  The V-Max engine is built around a dual director design, based on Intel Quad core processors.  There can be up to 8 V-Max engines per storage subsystem.  Each engine comes with up to 128GB of global memory and leverages RapidIO for engine interconnect.

EMC announced two models of the V-Max storage system; a single unit with one V-Max Engine (V-Max/SE) and the multi-engine V-Max storage subsystem.

  • The V-Max/SE can support up to 96 drives in the same frame as the V-Max engine and can support one drive expansion frame containing up to 240 additional drives.
  • The multi-engine V-Max has an engine cabinet starting out with 2 V-Max engines which can hold up to 8 engines and can connect up to 10 storage cabinets each holding up to 240 drives, for a maximum of 2400 drives.

V-Max engines can be added to the storage subsystem non-disruptively.  This attests to the RapidIO interconnect hot-swap capabilities to isolate and yet interconnect director nodes.

Each V-Max engine supports:

  • Frontend ports – 4 to 16-4Gb/s FC, 4 to 8-4Gb/s FICON, or 4 to 8-GigE iSCSI ports
  • Backend ports – 4 to 16-4Gb/s FC
  • Replication ports – 2 to 4-4Gb/s FC or 2 to 4-GigE
  • Mirrored memory cache – 128GB
  • V-Max engine interconnects – 4-RapidIO ports or 2 per director
  • Compute engines – 4-Quad core Intel Zeon processors or 2 per director

RapidIO interconnect has previously been used to primarily interconnect chips or circuit boards as an alternative to backplanes or motherboards.  RapidIO without optical extension can span 10+ meters between V-Max Engines.  Each RapidIO interconnect supports up to 2.5Gb/s bandwidth, providing a maximum interconnect bandwidth of 10Gb/s across the V-Max matrix of engines.

Accordingly, how the 2400 drives in a maxed out V-Max would be split across the 8 engines was not discussed.  Presumably they would be spread such that each engine would control around 300 drives but this depends on drive type and IO load, which provides system flexibility.   All V-Max engines would be capable of accessing storage behind other V-Max engines in the storage subsystem. However, I/O operations that cross V-Max engine boundaries need not be commonplace.

Also, the current DMX-4 has an aggregate total system bandwidth of 128GB/s.  In contrast, the V-Max’s10 Gb/s seems barely enough but as most V-Max I/O activity doesn’t cross engine boundaries, comparing the two bandwidths makes little sense.

Indeed, V-Max has 3 times the performance of the current DMX-4 storage subsystem and currently supports SSD, FC and SATA drives for storage (as does the DMX-4).   Also, V-Max draws 20% less power per TB and supports 3 times the usable capacity of current DMX-4 subsystems.

V-Max storage functionality

It seems like EMC has gone a long way to make the transition from the current generation DMX-4 to the V-Max as easy as possible.  V-Max is CLI compatible with DMX-4 and also uses the familiar Enginuity O/S that has been driving Symmetrix success for years. DMX-4 can SRDF to a V-Max and can be supported in any of the normal SRDF replication modes of synchronous and asynchronous replication.

Enginuity has also been enhanced to support “Auto-Provisioning” which automatically discovers HBA’s, storage ports, and storage devices and populates this information in the management console GUI to configure a storage view.  This can reduce storage provisioning time by 80% over current systems.  Auto-Provisioning is especially useful for the virtual server environments that are expected to be even more commonplace in the data center of tomorrow.

EMC pre-announced that V-Max would support by year end, a new automated storage tiering functionality called FAST (Fully Automated Storage Tiering).  However, today’s standard Symmetrix Virtual LUN capability can be used to move data between storage tiers and on the V-Max this data mobility is 20 times faster than current products.  Few details were available on the to-be-delivered FAST facility but from what we can discern data mobility is at the LUN level and can support movement of virtual-LUNs from SSD to FC to SATA storage that is fully automated.

Also Enginuity now supports a new extended distance protection option for the V-Max (SRDF/EDP), which uses a combination of cascaded Synchronous to Asynchronous replication.  This new feature supports a diskless “pass-thru node” that can significantly reduce replication costs.

As for DMX feature availability, FAST will not be available on DMX-4.  SRDF/EDP requires a V-Max subsystem as the pass-thru array but the source and/or target can be V-Max or DMX.  It’s unclear whether auto-provisioning will be exclusive to V-Max however, considering all the compatibility between DMX-4 and V-Max we wouldn’t be surprised if DMX-4 supported this as well.

Announcement significance

Obviously, EMC has taken a major step to upgrade the Symmetrix architecture with the V-Max offering.  EMC will continue to ship the current DMX Symmetrix based product line for the foreseeable future. Product transitions are always tricky and it’s unclear how long this will continue but presumably, DMX will be positioned to handle the storage needs of the traditional enterprise environment while V-Max will be used to go after the emerging virtual server environments. However, product positioning is EMC’s  problem to sort out.

Moving Enginuity code from running on PowerPC to Intel Zeon is a step in the right direction.  RapidIO was a risky move but it gives V-Max the ability to non-disruptively scale out by adding V-Max engines to the storage subsystem.  It also has the potential to support many more V-Max engines (up to 256 in the future) than currently supported (maximum of 8) which makes it very appealing in the long run.

It’s also obvious why compatibility would be a major requirement for any Symmetrix storage but compatibility can be as much of a curse as a benefit and can also be provided in many ways.  Porting Enginuity over to the new architecture guaranteed the highest compatibility but can potentially weigh down V-Max making it more difficult to implement new features.

To most vendors a clean sheet of paper is a luxury seldom seen.  EMC had the opportunity to start clean here but decided not to – only time will tell if this was the correct decision.  Nevertheless, it certainly benefits EMC and their customers in the short run by providing a stable platform with an enterprise tested set of features.

A PDF version of this can be found at

EMC 2009 April 14 Announcement of new V-Max storage subsystem

Silverton Consulting, Inc. is a Storage, Strategy & Systems consulting services company, based in the USA offering products and services to the data storage community.