Here I am, day 11 of a 17-day business trip, on my last leg of the trip this week, in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I have been flooded with requests to give my take on EMC's latest re-interpretation of storage virtualization, VPLEX.
I'll leave it to my fellow IBM master inventor Barry Whyte to cover the detailed technical side-by-side comparison. Instead, I will focus on the business side of things, using Simon Sinek's Why-How-What sequence. Here is a [TED video] from Garr Reynold's post [The importance of starting from Why].
Let's start with the problem we are trying to solve.
Problem: migration from old gear to new gear, old technology to new technology, from one vendor to another vendor, is disruptive, time-consuming and painful.
Given that IT storage is typically replaced every 3-5 years, then pretty much every company with an internal IT department has this problem, the exception being those companies that don't last that long, and those that use public cloud solutions. IT storage can be expensive, so companies would like their new purchases to be fully utilized on day 1, and be completely empty on day 1500 when the lease expires. I have spoken to clients who have spent 6-9 months planning for the replacement or removal of a storage array.
A solution to make the data migration non-disruptive would benefit the clients (make it easier for their IT staff to keep their data center modern and current) as well as the vendors (reduce the obstacle of selling and deploying new features and functions). Storage virtualization can be employed to help solve this problem. I define virtualization as "technology that makes one set of resources look and feel like a different set of resources, preferably with more desirable characteristics.". By making different storage resources, old and new, look and feel like a single type of resource, migration can be performed without disrupting applications.
Before VPLEX, here is a breakdown of each solution:
For IBM, the motivation was clear: Protect customers existing investment in older storage arrays and introduce new IBM storage with a solution that allows both to be managed with a single set of interfaces and provide a common set of functionality, improving capacity utilization and availability. IBM SAN Volume Controller eliminated vendor lock-in, providing clients choice in multi-pathing driver, and allowing any-to-any migration and copy services. For example, IBM SVC can be used to help migrate data from an old HDS USP-V to a new HDS USP-V.
With EMC, however, the motivation appeared to protect software revenues from their PowerPath multi-pathing driver, TimeFinder and SRDF copy services. Back in 2005, when EMC Invista was first announced, these three software represented 60 percent of EMC's bottom-line profit. (Ok, I made that last part up, but you get my point! EMC charges a lot for these.)
Back in 2006, fellow blogger Chuck Hollis (EMC) suggested that SVC was just a [bump in the wire] which could not possibly improve performance of existing disk arrays. IBM showed clients that putting cache(SVC) in front of other cache(back end devices) does indeed improve performance, in the same way that multi-core processors successfully use L1/L2/L3 cache. Now, EMC is claiming their cache-based VPLEX improves performance of back-end disk. My how EMC's story has changed!
So now, EMC announces VPLEX, which sports a blend of SVC-like and Invista-like characteristics. Based on blogs, tweets and publicly available materials I found on EMC's website, I have been able to determine the following comparison table. (Of course, VPLEX is not yet generally available, so what is eventually delivered may differ.)
In-band virtualization solutions from IBM and HDS dominate the market. Being able to migrate data from old devices to new ones non-disruptively turned out to be only the [tip of the iceberg] of benefits from storage virtualization. In today's highly virtualized server environment, being able to non-disruptively migrate data comes in handy all the time. SVC is one of the best storage solutions for VMware, Hyper-V, XEN and PowerVM environments. EMC watched and learned in the shadows, taking notes of what people like about the SVC, and decided to follow IBM's time-tested leadership to provide a similar offering.
EMC re-invented the wheel, and it is round. On a scale from Invista (zero) to SVC (ten), I give EMC's new VPLEX a six.
Last week, in Computer Technology Review's article [Tiering: Scale Up? Scale Out? Do Both], Mark Ferelli interviews fellow blogger Hu Yoshida, CTO of Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). Here's an excerpt:
This is not the first time I have had to correct Hu and others of misperceptions of IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC). This month marks my four year "blogoversary", and I seem to spend a large portion of my blogging time setting the record straight. Here are just a few of my favorite posts setting the record straight on SVC back in 2007:
Since day 1, SAN Volume Controllers has focused primarily on external storage. Initially, the early models had just battery-protected DRAM cache memory, but the most recent model of the SVC, the 2145-CF8, adds support for internal SLC NAND flash solid state drives. To fully appreciate how SVC can help improve the performance of the disks that are managed, I need to use some visual aids.
In this example, the SVC reduced the burden of the managed disk from 100,000 IOPS down to 55,000, which is 35,000 reads and 20,000 writes. Some have argued against putting one level of cache (SVC) in front of another level of cache (managed disk arrays). However, CPU processor designers have long recognized the value of hierarchical cache with L1, L2, L3 and sometimes even L4 caches. The cache-hits on SVC are faster than most disk system's cache-hits.
Of course, not all workloads are 70/30/50, and not every disk array is driven to its maximum capability, so your mileage may vary. As we slide down the left of the curve where things are flatter, the improvement in performance lowers.
Hitachi's offerings, including the HDS USP-V, USP-VM and their recently announced Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) sold also by HP under the name P9500, have similar architecture to the SVC and can offer similar benefits, but oddly the Hitachi engineers have decided to treat externally attached storage as second-class citizens instead. Hu mentions data that "ages out or becomes less active we can move it to the external storage." IBM has chosen not to impose this "caste" system onto its design of the SAN Volume Controller.
The SVC has been around since 2003, before the USP-V came to market, and has sold over 20,000 SVC nodes over the past seven years. The SVC can indeed improve performance of managed disk systems, in some cases by a substantial amount. The 0.06 msec latency on read-miss requests represents less than 1 percent of total performance in production workloads. SVC nearly always improves performance, and in the worst case, provides same performance but with added functionality and flexibility. For the most part, the performance boost comes as a delightful surprise to most people who start using the SVC.