The announcement of the VNXe product marks the second deployment of a new software architecture. The first product was the Celerra NX3e. The NX3e was initially shipped in October 2009 (over 15 months ago), and its delivery was limited to the Nordic region. This allowed EMC to not only validate the architecture, but also to roll out a new sales model to a limited set of distributors.
Here is a summary of the VNXe software architecture and impact:
Component Assembly Approach
The VNXe software architecture can be thought of as an asset integration framework. Consider the subset of assets from other EMC products that were integrated into VNXe:
- Portions of the CLARiiON I/O stack
- Portions of the Celerra I/O stack
- Business logic from Celerra Control station
- Management logic from the former Navisphere suite
- EMC's reusable GUI toolkit framework
- the same security library already embedded in a majority of EMC's products
- a licensing toolkit (also an internal EMC standard)
- the hardened LINUX distribution already shipping in multiple EMC products
The ability to re-use so many of EMC's data path assets is due in large part to the capabilities of EMC's internal CSX innovation.
Hardware Footprint Reduction
One of the benefits of convergence is the ability to reduce hardware footprint. In 2007, the low-end of the Celerra product line was the NS-20. The NS-20 was an assembly of multiple different operating systems (Windows, LINUX, proprietary), and each of these operating systems would run on different hardware platforms.
Additionally, the CLARiiON system required two additional stand-by power supplies (SPS) in order to preserve the contents of the write cache.
By 2009, the converged architecture represented by the NX3e cut the hardware footprint in half. The SPS technique had been replaced with an on-board vault-to-flash option. The VNXe reduces the hardware footprint even further with a single-SP option. This not only drives the cost of the overall solution significantly downward, but it makes the entire solution easier to manage (less moving parts). Speaking of management.....
Completely Rewritten User Interface
I've mentioned in a previous post that the shift to Flex technology represents a departure from the traditional mid-range and enterprise storage management experience. All of the field data was trending towards the needs of an IT generalist. It would have been more expedient to re-use Celerra (or CLARiiON) interfaces to manage VNXe......, but that just doesn't make sense.
Instead of LUNS, cache, and storage processors being front-and-center, the customer will see Exchange mailboxes, virtual machines, and application databases. The management protocol of the VNXe, therefore, is "application-rich". Configuration operations, monitoring, and alert handling are passed between the GUI and VNXe using terms more familiar to the IT generalist.
It's not about managing storage. It's about managing application storage. This paradigm also makes it easier for distributors.
Designed for Distributors
The initial price target for a minimal VNXe configuration was under $10K, and it was clear that this would not be a market traditionally addressed by EMC's direct sales force. This resulted in a multi-year effort to design the VNXe for distributors.
The decision to "design for distributors" was made at the same time as the decision to re-write everything in Flex. This allowed the engineering team to design communication paths in two different directions:
I've already mentioned the "application-aware" nature of the protocol between Unisphere and the VNXe. The Unisphere interface for VNXe also has rich-connectivity underpinnings to vendor ecosystems. These underpinnings provide great value to any vendor selling the product, including opportunities for eCommerce, enhanced support (e.g. chat, whitepapers), and user communities for VNXe users.
The LINUX platform, and the components that run on it, will continue to be a melting pot for combining new assets into the mix (e.g. the benefits of component assembly).
And when EMC acquires a new technology (e.g. GreenPlum, Isilon), it's a faster path to integration.
In fact, I think it's fair to say that the new VNXe platform was an intentional response to the torrid pace of EMC acquisitions.
Industry speculation was that EMC was cramming all of their acquisition assets into VMs and morphing them into some sort of new ESX-based storage platform.
Maybe we will. Maybe we won't. ;>)