EMC Buyer's Guide: EMC Goes x86

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It wasn't long ago that RISC processors powered EMC's server lines. Today, Intel's Nehalem EX processor is the power behind its four server lines. Together, Celerra, Centera, Clariion and Symmetrix offer a variety of solutions to match a variety of budgets.

Only a couple of years back EMC was focused on RISC processors. Then EMC (NYSE: EMC) introduced one of its high-end Symmetrix disk arrays with Intel processors. That was the writing on the wall for the EMC-RISC coupling. Since then, the company has purged its disk array portfolio of non-Intel processors.

"Symmetrix DMX and previous-generation Symmetrix systems were based on PowerPC chips," said Scott Delandy, senior product manager at EMC. "CLARiiON has always been Intel based."

The latest generation of EMC products is based entirely on Xeon processors. The Symmetrix V-Max, for example, is now Intel Xeon, whereas RISC-based processors powered the previous generation.

"We are getting phenomenal performance out of x86," said EMC chairman Joe Tucci. "The V-Max is by far the fastest Symmetrix platform we have ever made."

Tucci made his point on EMC's commitment to x86 by revealing a three-year internal program to move EMC's data center from RISC/UNIX to x86/VMware. What is the reason behind this move? Delandy said EMC has standardized processor technology across EMC platforms to gain benefits in manufacturing, testing, hardware QA, and serviceability.

"The major benefit going forward will be improved time-to-market for faster technology, allowing EMC to leverage Intels R&D, and the industry's move to x86 technology," he said.

Four Main Lines

It is time, therefore, to take a fresh look at EMC disk arrays now that they are harnessing Nehalem EX. Those looking to buy EMC products should be aware that there are four key product lines to consider: Symmetrix, Clariion, Celerra and Centera.

EMC, these days, tends to position everything in terms of its private cloud vision i.e., companies using cloud computing to run distributed applications that remain controlled internally, as opposed to operating in public clouds like those from Amazon and Google.

"Virtualization and the adoption of the private cloud are changing the ways IT is both delivered and consumed," said Delandy. "As users begin their journey, virtualization often begins within IT-owned applications, such as test, development, and smaller databases and workgroup applications."

To help build out these virtual infrastructures, he said, IT organizations are looking for simple and efficient storage solutions. He puts forward CLARiiON and Celerra as the best way to deliver these capabilities through features such as Unified SAN and NAS management; built-in efficiency technologies like deduplication, compression, and spin down; and automated management and tiering via Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST).

As IT moves toward a more highly virtualized business production environment (which might include enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, email, and decision support systems), higher levels of scalability, availability, protection, and security are required to support these mission-critical environments. Platforms, such as Symmetrix VMax and VPlex, are what he suggests as providing new ways to scale out resources via features like federation and FAST.

"This can eliminate unplanned and planned outages, and also includes the world's most advanced and proven replication technologies, as well as leveraging RSA technology to secure information access," said Delandy.


EMC still sells older Symmetrix DMX-4 arrays, and they remain popular. For those wanting a tried and true platform with less risk, and perhaps with the best potential for deals, the DMX-4 might be a good call. Each box contains anywhere from 16 to 130 dual 1.3 GHz PowerPC processors.

EMC Symmetrix VMAX, on the other hand, provides high-end storage aimed squarely at the virtual data center. Symmetrix VMAX scales up to 2 PB of usable protected capacity by combining several systems. Very much a product of the marriage of EMC and VMware, this array uses virtualization to consolidate workloads and store more data within a smaller footprint than traditional arrays. It can be deployed with flash drives, Fibre Channel and SATA drives, with tiering automated with FAST. Symmetrix VMAX supports virtualized and physical servers. These boxes offer vast amounts of storage from 48 to 360 drives, sized either as 146 GB or 1 TB each. That means a maximum of 360 TB in one system.

The other option is Symmetrix VPlex, which is fully covered in an earlier Buyer's Guide.


Clarion is really classified as midrange storage, although it comes with high availability, scalability and flexibility. The Clariion CX3 has several models (the CX3 10, 20, 40 and 80), all of which use dual-processor Intel chips. It offers 365 GB to 471 TB in a single system. The lower numbers, like the 10, have less storage and are less expensive; the 80, on the other hand, is pricier but has the maximum amount of storage.

Clariion CX4 Models 120, 240, 480 and 960 are higher end than the CX3 and take the maximum storage up to almost a PB in one box. The AX line offers far less storage and is the low end of EMC's midrange line –- but it can reach up as high as 60 TB if you link four systems together with a maximum of 120 TB.


This unified storage array is the best choice for those that must deal with a lot of file and block data simultaneously. While Symmetrix and Clariion are focused on traditional block-level networked storage, Celerra is designed to accommodate that and file-based data, such as NAS, with comfort.


EMC coined the term content-addressed storage (CAS) in the early part of the decade. CAS is a method of providing fast access to an archive of data files that are not expected to be changes. Centera comes with all sorts of bells and whistles for those that need it, including FAST, and even offers a compliance edition for those having to deal with a multitude of regulations.

EMC's Server Line Up

EMC Storage Line Symmetrix CLARiiON Celerra Centera
Description The highest-end EMC networked storage in terms of performance, availability and security Midrange storage systems with many of the same features as high-end Symmetrix arrays This is classed as high-availability unified storage that is easy to deploy and manage This is all about storing unchanging digital assets while keeping them available online and accessible in a content-addressed storage (CAS) archive.
Processor Details PowerPC processors and quad-core Intel Xeon 2.3 GHz Single, dual-core or multi-core Intel Xeon Single, dual-core or multi-core Intel Xeon Single, dual-core or multi-core Intel Xeon
Models Symmetrix DMX-4
Symmetrix VMAX
Clariion AX4
Clariion CX3
Clariion CX4
NX4, NX-120, NS-480, NS-960

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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This article was originally published on Jul 16, 2010
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