EMC brings tiers to the storage party

Last week, storage gorilla EMC launched an automatic storage tiering system that it reckons will move data to the most appropriate storage medium based on criteria including cost and performance, a launch the company first trailed in May 2009. But even though it's late compared to the competition, will that matter to EMC shops?

Last week, storage gorilla EMC launched an automatic storage tiering system that it reckons will move data to the most appropriate storage medium based on criteria including cost and performance, a launch the company first trailed in May 2009. But even though it's late compared to the competition, will that matter to EMC shops?

It's a software add-on for the company's new and existing Symmetrix V-Max, CLARiiON CX4, and Celerra product lines. And there's always an acronym: this one's called FAST for Fully-Automated Storage Tiering.

EMC said that its new LUN-level tiering technology can cut operational and storage purchasing costs, boost application performance by up to 800 percent for active data, and cut cost-per-megabyte for inactive data by up to 80 percent.

It works by allocating and reallocating data by analysing changes in the value and access patterns of data and moving them between storage tiers, from expensive Flash drives to low-cost SATA disks, typically used for backup and for longer-term archiving.

Sounds good, so what's missing? Firstly, there's no sub-LUN tiering, operating at the file level, something that EMC is horribly behind on compared to its competition; Hitachi Data Systems is among those already offering automated tiering. This much more efficient method of data tiering is all arriving in FAST version 2 in 2010, apparently.

And industry observers have already had a bit of a scathe about it. According to storage industry consultant Stephen Foskett: "This [tiering] is a nice-to-have feature, but does not yet live up to the promise of automated tiered storage, as pioneered by Compellent and offered in various forms by many other storage companies...Although FAST will make it much easier to take advantage of solid state flash drives (EFDs to EMC), it will do nothing to improve utilization....EMC was forced to prematurely unveil their FAST vision to keep their customer base from jumping ship to competitors already offering similar functionality."

"This functionality merely automates the existing LUN relocation capability of all current Symmetrix arrays (for non-thin-provisioned LUNs) and is nowhere near the promise of FAST," said storage industry site Gestalt IT.

So there you have it. Market leader's technology trails the competition - because it can - and will nevertheless sell shedloads. There's safety in sticking with the gorilla.

Such is life...

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