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Is Symantec entering the hardware business?

Sino-American kit burns up the record books

Symantec promised to wipe the benchmark floor with NetApp with its FileStore product, and it did, producing a record SPECsfs2008-nfs result, with Huawei Symantec hardware. What's going on? Is Symantec entering the hardware business?

Symantec, describing itself as a software and services business, has produced a clustered filer acceleration product called Filestore and told us it was going to trounce NetApp on an NFS benchmark.

So it did, recording 176,000 IOPS with an overall response time of 1.67ms. There were 960 disk drives with an exported capacity of 234TB. NetApp's FAS 6080 achieved 120,011 IOPS, an ORT of 1.95msecs, 324 disks, and 64.64TB of exported capacity and Symantec well and truly exceeded that, albeit by using three times as many disks and twelve NAS heads.

We'd expect Symantec to look around for a sympathetic x86 server supplier to run the FileStore software, and a NAS hardware supplier to provide the bulk storage - Dell comes to mind for the servers and filers. It didn't do that, going instead to Huawei Symantec for both boxes. Who?

Huawei Symantec is a joint-venture, set up in May 2007, between Symantec and Huawei Technologies of China. It is headquartered in Chengdu and is 51 per cent owned by Huawei and 49 per cent by Symantec. Its chairman is John Thompson, Symantec's chairman, and its CEO Ren Zhengfei, Huawei's CEO. In its 2008 annual report Symantec stated "The joint venture will develop, manufacture, market and support security and storage appliances to global telecommunications carriers and enterprise customers."

We know Huawei is licensing some of its technology, and Symantec is licensing some of its storage and security software, to the JV. Symantec also contributed $150 million to it.

The purpose looks clear enough. Symantec gets a leg up into China and Huawei gets access to Symantec technology, resources, and funding to sell its security and storage and servers products outside China. Globally in fact, if the press release text is to be believed.

From 2003 to 2005 Huawei was in a JV with 3COM, but pulled out of that. It had developed a line of storage and network security hardware products by 2007 and entered the JV with Symantec. The JV has offices in China, Malaysia, Russia, Germany, Dubai, South Africa, and Brazil. Symantec is in the USA, Ireland (Dublin), Singapore and Japan. There would seem to be a neat fit at the regional office geography level.

That's a quick sketch of the JV. The hardware used in this impressive benchmark was the N8500, a 4-16 node clustered NAS engine, described as: "[a] clustered NAS Storage System... an advanced, modular, and unified storage platform (including NAS, FC-SAN, and IP SAN) designed for high-end and mid-range storage applications."

The benchmark hardware consisted of N8500 engine nodes - twelve of them in a cluster - with each one having dual-core Xeon 5318 processors and running Huawei Symantec software. They were linked by 2 Brocade 5000 Fibre Channel switches to 20 Huawei Symantec S2300 storage controllers, also described as N8500 Storage Units, each with a 64-bit dual-core CPU, and 48 300GB Seagate 15K.6 SAS hard drives. They are configured with twin controllers in an active:active pair and serve blocks.

Client systems, actually Huawei blade servers, came in over gigabit Ethernet, actually a Huawei Ethernet switch.

We're told that each storage unit's disks were "bound into 6 7+1 RAID-5 LUNs; every 20 LUNs, one from each storage unit, creates a filesystem with (a) stripe depth of 20 and stripe size of 1024 KB; (a) total six filesystems (were) setup for this test."

In other words the NAS heads were connected to a back-end Fibre Channel SAN and not to NAS filers at all.

The hardware, apart from the Fibre Channel switch and Seagate drives, was Huawei Symantec through and through. In fact, we'd say, it was Huawei through and through basically. Not only did Huawei Symantec provide the hardware, it ran the benchmark and submitted it to SPEC.

From the JV regional office list it's apparent that Huawei Symantec hardware is not readily available in the USA. A Symantec spokesperson said: "The hardware boxes involved are currently available from Huawei Symantec as the HS Oceanspace N8000 Clustered NAS System in the UK, the Middle East and Africa. At this stage there is no date for availability in other markets"

In that case what use is the Symantec FileStore benchmark to US end-users? The software on these non-available boxes goes faster than a NetApp FAS6080, but I can't buy one, so it really doesn't matter.

But it matters everywhere there is a Huawei Symantec sales office and channel. It gives Huawei Symantec's channel, and, potentially, Symantec's channel in those geographies, a combined hardware and software NAS system to sell that beats NetApp on performance.

Is this rather impressive benchmark and underlying hardware the thin end of a thickening wedge? One that will bring Huawei server and storage hardware into the USA and Europe and turn Symantec into a combined hardware and software systems company? One better able to compete with EMC and, eventually, with converged and integrated server, networking and storage vendors? Is this the end game Symantec has in mind?

We asked Symantec if it is going to use the Huawei Symantec joint-venture as a way of getting into the server and storage hardware business.

The spokesperson said: "No. Symantec wants to help customers commoditize their infrastructure through better management of information. Sometimes that can be accomplished with Symantec software in easy-to-use integrated solutions, which is the case here. That's why the joint venture was created - to deliver security and storage appliance solutions for global telecommunications carriers and enterprise customers."

Hmm. Global means global and means North America is included. So we should expect HuaWei Symantec server and storage hardware and software to become available in North America eventually. That could give EMC, NetApp and others pause for thought, with Symantec storage software running on the JV's server and storage platforms.

It's still a very impressive benchmark result, though. ®

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