A while back, Chad Sakacc announced an EMC ‘Summer Gift Give-away‘, in which he had 10 brand spankin’ new VNXe3200 arrays available for volunteers and bloggers to play with.

Here’s the scoop:
You will have the array for 8 months. It MUST be shipped back – so don’t request unless you are ok with that model. If you don’t ship it back, you will get charged for it – and while the VNXe is incredible value, I don’t want anyone getting stuck with the tab. We’ll cover all the shipping costs.
We want your feedback, good/bad/ugly – and we want it publicly, openly and. Blog. Tweet. Share. We think it’s an awesome platform – perhaps the best in that band, but what do YOU think? What could we do better? SHARE! Don’t sign up unless you can put it through it’s paces and share.
Here’s what you will get:

  • VNXe3200-2U Form Factor / 12 DriveDPE, 3.9TB Raw Capacity
    • 6 x 600GB 15K 3.5” Drives
    • 3 X 100GB eMLC Flash Drives (for FAST auto-tiering)
    • 2 X 100GB eMLC Flash Drives (for FAST Cache)
  • Included OE Functionality (includes all the newMCx goodness and FAST behaviors)
    • Unisphere Management Suite
    • Monitoring and Reporting
    • Unified Snapshots (File and Block)
    • File deduplication and compression
    • Thin provisioning
    • Protocols (iSCSI, CIFS/SMB, NFS)

Chad Sakacc, ‘10 VNXe arrays free to play with for volunteers!

EMC in Ze Klauwd?

klauwdNow, as you might know, I’m running a community IaaS (unmanaged VPS hosting) project for the larger VMware-community called klauwd.com.
This is a non-profit cloud for hosting blog websites, chat, off-site backup and other stuff supporting the various communities. I have several nested lab environments running: a vSphere 6 beta lab, various virtual storage appliances and more.

The resources on this lab are open to all for consumption and priced based on cost price; any profit being made is directly invested into the platform again. Since it’s a public community project, everything I do is in the public domain.

That obviously makes it very attractive for vendors to have me put their stuff through its paces. For EMC, this is a perfect testing ground for their VNXe3200. So, I applied for the program, and was accepted not long after. Shortly after getting the ‘congratulations, you’re in‘ e-mail from Chad, the VNXe3200 was already shipped to me. EMC really scored some points on communication skills and timeliness of shipping here.

In full disclosure: EMC sent me a VNXe3200 array, loaded with most, if not all, licences, two storage processors, half a dozen 600GB 15k SAS drives and five 100GB EFDs for FastVP and FastCache. I did not pay anything for this array, which I’ll be able to use for about eight months. I will need to send the array back to EMC after this period. I am not compensated for my time or otherwise for blogging and other coverage or required to do so.

First impression: a story on licensing

compliance-100341485-origSince the array was crippled in the first week or so due to missing licenses, my first impression is best summarized as ‘why can’t I use this @#[email protected]#%%[email protected][email protected]# array in any substantial way without licensing?‘.

As a techie, I don’t like licensing, and I believe that storage arrays, especially low-to-mid-market arrays, should have an all-inclusive and perpetual licensing model. The fact that this EMC VNXe3200 doesn’t have that, and it took a week to acquire the correct licenses, is a down-side for me.

Look, I get it from a business perspective, but why not take a route similar to what Nutanix has done? They too have licensing tiers that enable additional functionality, but they don’t strictly apply it. Instead, a warning message is shown whenever the admin enables an unlicensed feature. I think the risk of companies running unlicensed features (and EMC missing out on revenue) is nihil, since no company I know of is willing to take this license compliance risk.

This does however, enable the technical folks to kick the tyres and see what the product’s functionality is all about. It might even generate more revenue, as the administrator can prove the added value of a higher licensing tier much easier.

Concluding this rant: while my view on licensing might not completely fair due to the non-standard internal order process of the array and licenses which caused the delays, I strongly feel a strictly enforced license model does not benefit me as a customer. I would much rather see a loosely enforced licensing model.

Second impression: a story on collateral

2004-collateral-3With the array just sitting around in that first week, I did something I suspect very few of you, myself included, do very often: read the documentation and other collateral before actually using the product. It felt very weird, but it was really the only thing I could do as I was eager to learn more about the array.

After spending an hour or three in the documentation, I felt impressed. Overall, the documentation set on the VNXe3200 is very thorough and touches a broad array (pun intended!) of subjects, from hardware information to quick start and installation guides, to various technical deep dives for troubleshooting, security, command line tools, integration points (with, for instance, a vSphere environment) and a bunch of white papers on advanced features of the VNXe software.

I highly recommend you read up on the documentation set if you want to learn more about the product!

The technical detail in the documentation is very nice. It states all kinds of gory details that a technical person would appreciate and helps you understand the inner workings of the product. Details on, for instance, the mSATA SSD that holds the Operating Environment, as EMC calls their Linux based OS. Let me tell you a bit more on this point:

Some small notes on the hardware

EMC-VNXe3200-IMG-04After looking closely at the documentation, I noticed multiple interesting things about the hardware, so I took some time examine the physical layer.

The Management and Service ports, which are used to administer, troubleshoot and remotely control the array intrigued me. The Service port supports SSH and IPMI interfaces, and as such, IPMITool can be used to interact with the array, but be aware that the port doesn’t support all IPMI commands. Also, I saw a hardware artifact in the form of a mini-HDMI port, which isn’t user-accessible, and doesn’t serve any obvious purpose. Funny, nonetheless.

When I was unboxing, I noticed a couple of USB cables I didn’t know what to do with. After some digging, I found out that these cables serve two purposes:

  • USB Power adapter and a USB-to-mini-jack cable, which are used to light the front bezel via a intricate system to transport the power from the back of a rack through the sliding rack rails to the front. This is where that very distinct blue light on the bezel comes from.
  • A Micro-USB-to-USB converter, which can be used to connect a regular-size flash drive to a storage processor to assign an IP-address to the system. You need the Windows-based Connection Utility to load the correct configuration onto the USB flash drive.

You don’t need to connect all eight 10Gbit NICs, by the way. The bare minimum is one per controller, and you can even use them on a 1Gbit network for those who haven’t upgraded to 10Gbit, yet.

Otherwise, the array is pretty standard: it’s a disk enclosure with two controllers in the back which contain the standard x86 nuts ‘n’ bolts including I/O ports, a couple of disks in the front and some shared hardware such as fans and power supplies.

Initial Array Configuration

softwareupgradeThere are multiple ways of doing the initial configuration of the controllers. The array is configured to use DHCP by default, but if you’re like me, you probably don’t have DHCP running in your storage network. If so, you’ll need the VNXe Connection Utility to perform auto discovery (which requires the client running the utility to be in the same L2 domain or IP subnet as the array).
Finally, you can use the Utility’s manual configuration method, which saves the network configuration to a file on a USB flash drive, which you then insert to Storage Processor A. As a side note, it’s refreshing to see that the VNXe3200 is dual-stack: it supports both IPv4 and IPv6.

After configuration, you are ready to log in to the Unisphere administration portal on the configured IP-address. When logging in for the first time, use the default credentials (which are ‘admin’ and ‘Password123#’).

During the first configuration, set up DNS (which is required for EMC Secure Remote Support), NTP and SMTP for logging & alerting and ConnectEMC phone-home functionality. Please be aware that EMC Secure Remote Support and ConnectEMC do not support IPv6, unfortunately.
While it is a minor drawback of the platform, I hardly believe anyone will see this as a problem. Finally, configure the data ports for iSCSI and create a NAS Server instance for CIFS and NFS protocols.

EMCVNXe3200-TimeRebootDuring the initial configuration, I was asked to reboot the array. This struck me as very strange, especially since I was only changing the time and time zone. This is an issue for me from an engineering perspective. The underlying OS is Linux and changing these values shouldn’t pose a problem at all. I’m guessing the problems lie within the EMC-proprietary Operating Environment, which runs in user-space Linux. There’s certainly some room for improvement here.

Finally, I always update the array’s firmware as part of the initial configuration. The box is still ‘fresh’ and doesn’t run anything yet, so it’s likely the most suitable time to update. Too bad EMC hasn’t yet implemented a self-downloading mechanism for array software updates.
I’ve always hated having to download array software update manually, because more often than not, those downloads are behind a support portal, take forever to download and make updating the array that much more painstaking. I’d really like to see a more automated process, where the array will fetch the firmware upgrade and preloads it on the array. Of course, administrative approval of the pending update should always be given manually.

Overall impressions after the first week

11_21_2012_first-impressionsI’ll re-iterate that in my first week with the array, I barely touched the array itself; I spent most of my time with the documentation and with the initial configuration. I didn’t even go as far as creating storage pools or present any storage to my hosts. Neither did I use any monitoring or management solutions. This really is about the first impression the array made on me.

For this week, my main conclusions are:

  1. I won’t regurgitate the licensing debacle. It is what it is, and I hope EMC will consider a more loosely coupled licensing model for the VNXe3200.
  2. The documentation and other collateral is excellent. Very detailed, with relevant details in all the right places. Well done, EMC.
  3. The hardware is good. Sturdy, well-built, well thought out. Good out-of-band management options and thoughtful separation between general management and ‘in-depth’ service port. One (very small) point to make here: why do I need a separate power supply and cabling system for the blue LED on the bezel? This made me not hook up the bezel at all in my data center.
  4. Procedure to get started with the array is good enough. Good to see a complete hands-off method (using the USB stick). Very clunky I actually have to reboot the entire array to set the correct time (zone). That needs work. From what I understand, the Initial Configuration Wizard in the VNXe3200 is a new feature in the VNX/VNXe series, and it’s a welcome addition given it’s target market.
  5. The OE seems to be very active development. Other EMC arrays typically run software for different purposes on various hardware (storage processors and data movers), and the VNXe3200 is the first array to unify much of the underlying architecture. This shows in multiple ways: I’m not sure if I need to lean to the negative side by pointing out the glitches I experiences (such as the required reboot after changing time settings) and concluding the software is far from perfect and still needs work (even Chad points out this effort is only half way), or lean to the positive side by pointing out that this OE is a major effort on EMC’s side and has vastly improved stability, performance and scalability.

Stay tuned for more!

keep-calm-maybe-next-timeIn this post, I commented on the rack ‘n’ stack of the array. In the meantime, I have the array up and running, configured different types of storage and attended a WebEx on the architecture of the array.

In the next post in this series, I will dive into the architecture, comment on how I’m currently using the array in terms of storage protocols and storage configuration and discuss my experiences with features such as the FAST Suite (FAST Cache and FAST VP), tell you my thoughts on the array’s deduplication and compression features, VMware integration, centralized management and remote monitoring.