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By | Chris Mellor 1st February 2016 22:48

We've just stepped out of our time machine, and we can reveal ... EMC's new kit for early 2016

NVMe fabric flash and deduping VSAN lead

Analysis EMC has new storage products coming in both external shared array form and in its converged and hyper-converged systems lines of products, using new VSAN capabilities.

These will be announced over the next two quarters and will change the shape of EMC's product lines. We think we now have an overall view of what the mainstream product lines will look like.

This information comes from EMC's latest quarterly results earnings call, from various sources, and from blogs by EMC VCE president Chad Sakac.

The background includes the point that VMware's VSAN/EVO:RAIL/EMC VSPEX Blue products have not apparently been successful, hence the need for a revamp of the core VSAN software.

Secondly, new flash formats are available, with 3D NAND offering higher, more cost-effective capacities, and proprietary flash modules using them offering higher capacities also. Consequently, EMC is going to use its own so-called flash modules in its storage products.

Thirdly, it is becoming apparent that external all-flash arrays could deliver far higher performance if they had faster network access and also if their media was treated as storage memory instead of block- or file-accessed storage resources. However, this latter development is incompatible with the installed base of SANs and filers.

That gives the first split between EMC's coming new products. On the one hand, we have legacy VMAX and VNX arrays with next-generation ones coming, and on the other we have new arrays, such as XtremIO, which have new software stacks and are not fully compatible with VMAX and VNX.

Here is a chart showing our view of how EMC's mainstream VMAX, VNX and XtremIO product area will develop using this split.


Positioning EMC's coming products

The products are divided into high-end, mid-range and entry-level. Each of these rows is populated in the legacy area by VMAX, VNX and VNXe. In the new generation area we have new-design, all flash arrays; with XtremIO now demoted to the mid-range area. In terms of performance, XtremIO competes with VMAX and VNX; it's just that DSSD is hugely faster still, and so plonks XtremIO in a mid-range ranking. As yet, there is no entry-level all-flash array.

We'll look at each column in turn.

Shared Arrays – DSSD D5 NVMe fabric-attached all-flash array

We think we know these things about the forthcoming DSSD array:

  • New extreme-performance high-end product called the D5.
  • NVMeF-attached for storage-class memory (SCM)-class latency, meaning very low, in the tens of microseconds area.
  • 36 front-loaded NVMe proprietary flash modules (FMs) for higher density with 3.8TB raw capacity.
  • 3D NAND chips.
  • Needs software layer for apps to use persistent memory.
  • Occupies new market sector.

Here's a picture of the DSSD D5 product.

EMC Cork's DSSD D5 unit

EMC Cork's DSSD D5 unit showing 36 flash modules. Click image to peer more closely at it

What we see here is 36 solid-state flash modules. We understand these to be NVMe dual-ported devices in a custom housing, meaning their performance or capacity is likely to exceed standard 2.5-inch SSDs. With 36 total, this implies quite a significant amount of total capacity and performance. Let's try and see what this means.

In the results earnings call, EMC II CEO David Goulden talked of "the latest 3D NAND technology and things like 3.8 terabyte drives."

Thirty six 3.8TB drives gives us 136.8TB, raw TB. This compares to HDS' latest HFS array, with a maximum of 96TB raw in its 2U shelf, with the D5 looking to be housed in a 5U shelf. The HFS A270 will deliver one million 32K IOPS across FC or Ethernet cabling.

According to Chad Sakac, each flash module has 512 dies working in parallel in a stacked configuration. Okay, 3.8TB divided by 512 gives us 7.4GB dies, and these use 3D NAND. Samsung is shipping 3D NAND today. 32-layer dies were mentioned last September and we understand a 48-layer product is coming this year.

Sakac says that DSSD has face-melting performance, and our estimate is that this means five million IOPS or more.

Let's look at the D5's ass.


DSSD D5 rear view

We can see two very dense rows of LEDs that look like four groups of twelve across. That would be 2 x 48 ports = 96 in total. There are presumably two rows for clustered controllers, so that would support 48 clustered connections. The pink cables are, we think, PCI Express wires with the NVMe protocol running across them.

Our understanding is that three PCIe Gen X4s gives us 3.94GB/sec. Gen 3 X8 gives us 7.88GB/sec and Gen 4 X8 will provide 15.76GB/sec. Therefore, 48 X PCIe gen 4, 8-lane at 15.76GB/sec equals 756.5GB/sec maximum bandwidth.

We understand that NVMe Fabrics will support any RDMA fabric base cabling, including Ethernet (RoCE), Infiniband, iWARP, and OmniFabric, with the command protocol and queuing being common and developed from NVMe over PCIe.

The application areas that could use DSSD are:

  • HDFS for Big Data analytics in real-time.
  • High transaction rate key value stores.
  • High-performance computing as with TACC.

DSSD will be launched this quarter, and possibly before the end of February.


The XtremIO array is apparently getting re-architected to use 3D NAND and 3.84TB drives. This now becomes a mid-range system and is what EMC would position against Pure Storage, IBM's FlashSystem, NetApp Solidfire and all-flash E-series, Kaminario's K2, the HDS HFS A series, Violin Memory, X-IO and so forth.

We think the capacity per X-brick will rise.

We also think there could be scope for EMC to introduce an entry-level all-flash array, a slimmed-down XtremIO product say, that would kind of fulfill an all-flash VNXe-class product role in our box diagram.

All-flash re-architected VMAX

A new-design all-flash VMAX is coming in the first 2016 quarter, and it will use the 3D NAND, 3.84TB flash drives. The VMAX is a monolithic array with multiple storage engines communicating across an internal fabric (Dynamic Virtual Matrix) to all the drives.

Our understanding is that storage shelves are being redesigned to house the flash drives, and the VMAX software is being modified to use them.

Goulden was at pains to say it was more than just flash-module-for-SSD drive substitution: "What we'll talk about in the new VMAX is not just putting a whole bunch of flash drives in an existing VMAX system. We've done a lot of re-architecting, the way that software works, the VMware works, the hardware works to truly take advantage of these new ... 3D NAND-technology at scale which is a lot of work."

The all-flash VMAX competes with all-flash versions of IBM's DS8000, HDS USP, HPE's OEM version of the underlying Hitachi hardware, and HPE's all-flash 3PAR.

We don't expect the base VMAX storage engine-fabric complex to be redesigned in this exercise.

Currently we have the VMAX3 100K running up to 1PB capacity, the VMAX3 200K to 2PB and the VMAX3 400K going to 4PB. We expect the equivalent of a VMAX4 line with a separate all-flash model included and enjoying VMAX-compatibility for management and data services.

All-flash re-architected VNX-class system

This is basically a VMAX-style re-architecting for 3D NAND and 3.84TB drives for EMC's dual-controller mid-range array. The resulting all-flash array will arrive in the second quarter. It may not be called VNX, Goulden saying: "We will introduce a new flash-optimized mid-tier storage family which will change the used cases for flash in the mid-tier," not using the VNX name.

But, in the same call, overall EMC CEO Joe Tucci said: "EMC II has also embarked on an important initiative to re-architect their VMAX and VNX product families ... both VMAX and VNX are planning major enhancements and refreshers that will make these systems extremely competitive in the primary all-flash storage market."

Later in the call Goulden said: "[With] the re-architecting we can really come to market with a complete family VNX, VMAX, XtremIO, DSSD leveraging this latest technology and basically use all-flash all the time for primary storage ... DSSD is going to address a whole new class of workloads, XtremIO and VMAX are playing in broadly similar markets but with different attributes and the new mid-tier line cap fits underneath that."

Is the new box going to be called VNX or not? So we will certainly see a new, mid-tier all-flash array line and it may be called VNX but it might not.

This line will compete with HDS all-flash HUS, HPE 3PAR, and NetApp's AFF.

Converged and hyper-converged systems

The converged systems use shared arrays in a rack. The hyper-converged systems use VMware VSAN software in a server-based infrastructure integrating server, storage SW, networking and hypervisor SW in a single, orderable product (SKU).


Goulden said: "We look forward to continuing strong partnership with Cisco for extending our lead in Vblocks and for networking systems across our CI portfolio."

The thing that is immediately apparent for VCE is that it will have new VMAX and VNX (or whatever it's called) storage platforms to play with. So we should expect new Vblocks using the next generation VMAX and VNX systems.

There is also an existing XtremIO Vblock, the Vblock Specialized System for Extreme Applications which is for up to 7,000 desktops in VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop environments. EMC VCE also offers the Vblock 540 containing XtremIO. Expect straight availability of the new XtremIO product in versions of these products.

We are not expecting a DSSD-based Vblock, as DSSD is a v1.0 product. However the logic of why customers buy converged systems suggests that a DSSD-based Vblock is inevitable.


Goulden said: "For the last several months EMC and VMware partnered very closely to develop a new next-generation hyper-converged appliance family that uniquely leverages technology from EMC, VMware and VCE and will change the game in this part of the converged infrastructure space. Stay tuned for an exciting joint EMC, VMware announcement in a few weeks time."

We now believe that VSAN is going to have dedupe and compression added to it, and that a new VxRAIL offering, using this, will be announced on February 16.

This will up the competitive ante against Nutanix and Simplivity and all the SW-based HCIA vendors. ®

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