iSCSI, flash storage highlight overhaul of EMC's mid-range Clariion system

Clariion provides native support for iSCSI and Fibre Channel SAN connections

EMC Tuesday will ship a new generation of its Clariion midrange storage-area network disk array, which makes support for iSCSI a standard feature, offers new energy-saving software tools and gives customers the option to use flash memory.

CX4, the first overhaul of the Clariion line since May 2006, is significant in part because it "acknowledges that iSCSI is here to stay," says Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Mark Peters.

Moreover, EMC's decision to add flash drives to midrange storage came surprisingly quickly, just a few months after EMC made flash available on the high-end Symmetrix platform, Peters says.

"While not unexpected, the speed of this inclusion in EMC's midrange platform is surprising, and will probably force other vendors (for example Sun, NetApp, Hitachi) to compete faster than they might have been planning," Peters writes in a brief on the new Clariion system.

While CX4 is on the market now, EMC won't make the flash drives available until October.

Sun, for its part, has said it will embed flash storage in nearly every type of server it offers by year-end.

With iSCSI, EMC is making support for this SAN protocol a standard part of all CX4 systems, just Fibre Channel. Previously, iSCSI was not available on the highest-end Clariion box and had to be purchased separately on the lower-tier Clariion systems.

Now, "any customer who purchases CX4 will get both [Fibre Channel and iSCSI] protocols," says EMC storage product marketing director Barry Ader.

EMC is also introducing what it calls UltraFlex, which will make it easier for customers to upgrade to emerging technologies such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet iSCSI over 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and 8Gbps Fibre Channel. Customers will be able to upgrade by purchasing new I/O modules from EMC, rather than an entire new storage system, Ader says.

The CX4 can scale up to nearly a petabyte. There are four models, the 120, 240, 480 and 960, with the number indicating the number of drives in each system. Each drive can be as large as a terabyte.

Despite being called mid range, "this is getting to be a pretty big box," Peters says.

The least expensive Clariion, with five Fibre Channel drives and management software, starts at US$31,000. With systems ranging to as many as 960 drives, the price can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, Ader says.

Flash drives are only available on the 480- and 960-drive versions. This was Peters' only criticism of EMC -- why no flash drives for entry-level customers?

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