The recent EMC ‘Mega Launch’ was a big deal for EMC (disclosure: I work on the EMC vSpecialist team as per my blurb to the right hand side of this post). As many of you were no doubt aware from the extensive traditional and new-media methods of promotional activity that was going on it was a significant launch for EMC which saw a number of new products and updates being announced. The coverage of these announcements in the blogasphere is quite extensive so I won’t attempt to re-invent the wheel, though check out the links section at the end of this post for some good reads on the announced products in this EMC ‘Mega Launch’.
During the launch there were a number of product announcements for all sizes of business (eg: VMAX update, Isilion, VNX, Datadomain), but for me I have to admit the new VNXe unified storage appliance really struck a chord. It shares many of the features and functions found in the larger unified VNX storage appliance, which will no doubt appeal to the SMB market where traditionally EMC has not had a strong offering. The VNXe will also likely appeal to to those larger businesses wanting some cost effective, easy to implement NFS, iSCSI or CIFS storage for their test and development environments or remote branch offices.
With the VNXe announcement, and in writing this post, I was coming in from the angle of assessing the EMC VNXe as a candidate for block and/or file level storage to be used in an SMB’s VMware vSphere environment. From the specifications, white papers and other miscellaneous documentation I have read on it so far I have to say that it looks like a good contender for new and existing vSphere infrastructures though I look forward to actually get my hands on an VNXe sometime soon so I take a closer physical look and hopefully take it for a spin.
So without further ado let’s take a look at these new VNXe offerings…
VNXe 3100 & VNXe 3300 – What’s Different?
The VNXe comes in two flavours, the 3100 and the 3300, with the 3100 being the smaller member of the VNXe family. This entry level 3100 VNXe model can come with either a single or dual storage processors (SPs) and the VNXe 3300 comes with dual SPs as standard. It is important to point out that the VNXe’s with dual SPs (ie: dual VNXe 3100 and VNXe3300 models) run in an active/active configuration which means that the SPs share the workload and also provide a resilience in the event that one of the SPs fails. Once a faulty SP is replaced the workloads are automatically distributed once again between the two.
With regard to the size, the VNXe 3100 is 2U in height with the disks sitting horizontally (4 columns of 3 disks) and the VNXe 3300 is 3U in height with vertically placed disks.
There is full resilience on all the main components that make up the VNXe, ie: PSU, disks, storage processors and fans.
The main differences, as you’ve probably already guessed between the 3100 and the 3300 comes down to scalability, throughput, expansion options and pure horsepower under the hood. The VNX e3100 uses dual core Intel Xeon Westmere processors with 4GB per SP and the VNX e3300 uses Intel Xeon Westmere quad cores with 12GB per SP, also you will only be able to get optical 10GbE Flex I/O modules for the VNXe 3300 model. This is a factor that you should definitely take into consideration if you remotely think you may look at implementing 10 GbE sometime in the future. The standard connectivity in/out of the VNXe is via 1Gb Ethernet ports, take a look at the table below for details on how many per model. Also it is worth mentioning that the VNXe 3300 will be the only VNXe model which will be able to use flash based disks, though this disk type won’t be available on launch on the VNXe 3300 – though will be coming sometime in the future.
The following table gives a basic overview on the key areas of each model which makes for a useful quick-glance comparison.
Disk add-on enclosures (DAES) provide extra disk expansion to allow the VNXe’s to expand past their default single Disk Processor Enclosure (DPE) which connects to any additional DAEs via the 4 x 6Gb/s SAS ports from each SP. As a side note, the VNXe 3300 model uses 15 disks (vertical) per DAE to reach it’s maximum 120 drives and the 3100 uses 12 drives (horizontal) per DAE to reach either 48 (single SP) or 96 (dual SP) drive maximums.
VMware Ready Certified?
I can confirm (and know from internal sources at EMC) that the VNXe is VMware Ready Certified, though at the time of writing (ie: two days after it’s announcement) it hadn’t yet been added to the VMware Compatibility Guide.
So what makes the VNXe stand out from other SMB level storage including EMC’s previous entry level storage appliances the Celerra NX and CLARiiON AX? For me I would have to say the following two key features:
Apparently the EMC VNXe will start at just under ten thousand US dollars (US$9499) for the base entry level model. The more disk and feature functionality you add will obviously start bumping the price up as with any of the other competing SMB storage appliances out on the market such as the HP P2000i (MSA) or the Dell PowerVault Dell MD3200i. At the sub US$10K price point it is highly competitive and I’m sure it will appear on the radar of many businesses out there considering entry level storage from which to run part or all of their virtualized infrastructure.
2. Secret Sauce?
Even more than the price, the architecture of the VNXe is where the real “Wow!” factor is at in my opinion as it introduces the virtualization and running of the storage appliance’s code in what is best described as a VM on the storage appliane. Unlike the code of an EMC Celerra or CLARiiON storage appliance which runs on the physical hardware, the VNXe’s OS (Operating Environment – OE) runs abstracted from the underlying hardware in something called a CSX container. This CSX container runs on top of something called C4 (not the explosive) which is probably best compared to being a hypervisor. As most of you have no doubt observed, there is a significant shift for traditional hardware based IT appliances to start being offered in a virtualized appliance form, with one widely known example of this being the Cisco Nexus 1000v virtual switch. In virtualizing these appliances and having them abstracted from the underlying hardware means that vendors can then take advantage of leveraging commodity hardware which helps keeps costs down in hardware R&D for the vendor and probably most importantly means that it is easy to run multiple appliance OS’s alongside each other on a single piece of hardware.
Chad Sakac’s blog post on the VNXe here offers a clear overview on the VNXe’s virtualized environment including the CSX containers – I recommend taking a look as it is apparent that this is a direction that EMC are obviously serious about.
How does the VNXe compare to the existing EMC entry level storage line up?
So how do you compare the VNXe compare to the current (ie: pre-VNXe release) EMC entry level storage offerings? Obviously there are architectural differences between EMC’s existing entry level storage line up and that of the VNXe such as SAS disks and connectivity though if you were to make a comparison this is how it would look, taking factors such as connectivity protocol and expansion options into account.
Other Cool Stuff:
Unisphere Management & Fully Self Serving Parts: All VNXe models are managed via the easy to use Unisphere management interface, which has been ‘tweaked’ to include a very attractive graphical representation of the actual VNXe device itself which makes troubleshooting and the all round management of the VNXe a straight forward and intuitive experience. This ties in to the premise behind the VNXe being targeted at the ‘IT Generalist’ who are commonly supporting the IT infrastructure in SMB sized companies. For either SMB’s with little to no IT staff or larger businesses wanting to send storage out to remote branch offices the fact that all parts on the VNXe require no tools for replacement and are ‘self servicing’ will be a real bonus.
I had to include a picture of what the VNXe looks like in Unisphere as it looks, in my opinion, so visually attractive especially for a storage appliance’s management interface.
If you want a little more information on the management of the VNXe via Unisphere I would recommend taking a look at this video which takes you through much of the interface.
Once again this will certainly be attractive to those SMB’s without any or limited IT support.
Bolt-On Software Packs: The three additional bolt-on software bundle are also worth a mention as with the titles of ‘Total Value’, ‘Total Protection’ and ‘Total Efficiency’ they make purchasing those applications to meet a particular requirement for the VNXe a little bit easier to choose from.
Here are a couple of diagrams that give a breakdown on each of the software packs and the additional functionality they offer.
VMware vCenter Plug Ins for VNXe – As with the EMC Unified Plug In and the EMC VSI Plug in for VMware vCenter currently available for the EMC Celerra and CLARiiON, the VNXe version is in the pipeline and will be made available for free download from EMC’s PowerLink site upon release of the VNXe’s.
EMC’s Powerpath /VE – Is an optional extra and is used with the iSCSI based block storage on the VNXe. If you are not familiar with Powerpath /VE it provides VMware vSphere (or Microsoft Hyper-V for that matter) with effective workload balancing, path failover functionality and optimized performance between the ESX/ESXi host and the VNXe over iSCSI. You can find out more information on Powerpath here.
So there we have it, a whirlwind tour on the new EMC VNXe. I think you’ll agree it is quite a nice looking entry level storage appliance with a healthy offering of features and horse power to make it fit well into many VMware vSphere infrastructures out there. As mentioned, I hope to get my hands on an VNXe sometime in the near future to really kick the tyres on it – I certainly look forward to it.
And finally, Chad if you are reading this… I realllllllllly need a VNXe for my vSphere lab. Thanks in advance.
Want some more reading from the EMC Mega Launch? If so, why not pay a visit to some of these sites (as you’d expect the majority of them are from EMC folk).
Chad Sakac (my boss & all round jolly nice chap):
Other Good Reads: