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EMC unveils new high-end storage

The storage systems maker introduces the Symmetrix DMX, designed to handle the data storage needs of large companies. But will it be enough to overcome a market funk?

EMC has revamped its top-of-the-line storage system in a bid to regain ground at the high end of the market.

As expected, the storage systems maker on Monday introduced its Symmetrix Direct Matrix Architecture system.

The Symmetrix DMX, as EMC calls it, is designed to handle the data storage needs of large companies and their computer networks, giving those companies access to data more quickly than did previous Symmetrix products or offerings from EMC's competitors.

The new product arrives in a storage market that has been anything but vibrant and that analysts say is unlikely to rebound in the near future. EMC has the No. 3 spot, behind Hewlett-Packard and IBM, and just ahead of Hitachi and Dell Computer, according to market researcher IDC.

To create the Symmetrix DMX system, EMC redesigned its hardware, adopting a new method of connecting its internal components. DMX's main ingredient is a new point-to-point interconnect--a data pathway that allows for a direct connection for data, rather than shared connections, which can create bottlenecks. The new interconnect can transfer data at 64GB per second, more than four times faster than similar products in the market, EMC executives said.

The new Symmetrix product also includes characteristics such as redundant components designed to keep companies' data available around the clock. In addition, it is compatible with EMC's existing Enginuity operating system software.

EMC said that it took the point-to-point path after consulting with customers.

"When designing Symmetrix DMX, EMC faced a strategic decision. We could follow the path of least resistance and develop an incrementally better bus- or switch-based Symmetrix, or we could take the more challenging road to much greater returns for customers," Joe Tucci, EMC's CEO, said in a statement. "After consulting with our customers, the choice was obvious."

By doing that, though, executives acknowledged the perception in the industry was that EMC was late with the successor to the Symmetrix 5 series. However, by scrapping the other product, the company was able to bring out the direct matrix product sooner, EMC storage platforms head David Donatelli said in an interview. The company started work on that architecture in 1999. Donatelli declined to say how much EMC spent developing the new products.

In addition to offering better performance, Donatelli said, the DMX series should be more cost-competitive than recent EMC products.

"Perceptions take a long time to change," he said. "End users perceived that our pricing was higher. The (new product line) gives us a cost basis where we can meet the market in terms of pricing."

EMC plans to couple the system speed with a competitive price in order to capture customers from its competitors, especially IBM and Hitachi. The company will deliver three Symmetrix DMX systems--including monolithic, or all-inclusive, and modular options--with prices starting at just over $400,000, the company said.

Prices will scale to about $2.5 million. Although that might seem like an enormous sum, EMC executives said it works out to between 4 cents and 8 cents per megabyte.

"What we like to think is that we're offering customers superior technology at market pricing," Donatelli said at the press conference.

EMC is also adding high-performance versions of the DMX 1000 and DMX 2000 featuring more directors, more channels and fewer disks per channel.

EMC's move to further segment the high-end market is good for its business, said Tony Prigmore, a senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass.

"There is a portion of market that will always buy highest-performing" products, Prigmore said. "That is a market that Hitachi took from EMC very successfully over the past three years." Given the performance that EMC is touting, Prigmore said he expects the new products will be well received by high-end customers.

At the same time, Prigmore said he likes the idea of a modular product that is unmatched by IBM or Hitachi.

"That means EMC can put enterprise platforms in places where Hitachi and IBM cannot."

Although EMC is touting the DMX series as outperforming Hitachi's gear in several areas, Hitachi executives say that real-world performance, particularly when using servers with multiple operating systems will show that its products can still outperform EMC's gear.

That said, Hitachi Vice President Scott Genereux said the new EMC product could add some temporary pricing pressure.

"When anyone introduces a new box it affects pricing for a while," he said. "There might be a blip."

The DMX800 will be EMC's first modular and rack-mountable Symmetrix storage system and offer from 1 terabyte to just over 15 terabytes of usable space for data. Its design is aimed at allowing companies to build their storage systems as additional capacity is needed. The monolithic DMX1000 offers between 3 terabytes and 18.5 terabytes of usable storage for data, offers between eight and 48 front-end ports to connect to networks, and is designed for large systems such as mainframes. The DMX2000 offers a larger amount of data storage capacity, between 6.1 terabytes and 37 terabytes, and between eight and 96 ports.

Although the modular DMX800 resembles the EMC's midrange Clariion systems, Donatelli said it would be a mistake to think the company is trying to get those customers to buy up. "A Clariion is half as much money still," he said.

Instead, he said, the DMX800 is designed to allow high-end customers more flexibility--giving them the ability, for example, to keep smaller systems outside their company's data center as opposed to concentrating all storage in one spot.

"Customers have always asked us for an easier way to buy high-end storage," he said. With traditional high-end storage systems, you get the entire frame and infrastructure, regardless of how many drives are installed, he said. That "makes it expensive, particularly in its entry-level configuration."

EMC's competitors have already begun responding to the Symmetrix DMX system.

Hitachi has doubled the data capacity of its Lightning 9900 V to 128 terabytes of usable space. The company also plans to announce an increase in connectivity, offering up to 64 Fibre Channel connections at 2GB per second. Meanwhile, IBM is expected to announce on Monday support for Bluefin, a proposed standard that lets software makers speak a common language when controlling storage systems. The company is also expected to announce availability of faster 72GB hard drives.

Meanwhile, EMC plans this summer to add FICON, a connection that links storage systems to mainframe computers, he said.

Since FICON support is not expected until summer, EMC plans to keep selling a modified version of its existing 8000 series of Symmetrix gear that is centered toward mainframes. Donatelli said he expects the DMX products, which are available now, to account for half of Symmetrix sales this quarter.

Although it sells its Clariion line of products through a number of partners, such as Dell Computer, EMC is not expected to market the new Symmetrix DMX system through similar deals. A Dell representative said the company has no plans to offer a Dell-branded version of the Symmetrix product anytime soon.