VMAX is becoming an app engine

Hypervisored array controller running apps


EMC World VMAX could become a server resource with a set of X86 engines controlled by ESX and running EMC software assets inside virtual machine containers, connecting to direct-attached VMAX storage resources.

This is a logical speculation of El Reg's based on Pat Gelsinger's Monday keynote presentation in which he said apps could run on VMAX. This set our system architects – the guys who draw diagrams on the back of table napkins – to wondering. Here's what they came up with, tested out in a conversation with Barry Burke, EMC's chief strategy officer in the Enterprise Storage Division, the home of VMAX and VPLEX.

The VMAX can run apps, meaning that any app in EMC's software assets that runs on the X86 platform could run on the VMAX X86 engines. So that could be management software and storage array controller software, but not virtual software appliances (VSAs) because there is no virtualisation environment there. We concentrated on this aspect, ignoring other apps such as Greenplum and the Documentum apps.

Barry Burke said: "It's no accident all EMC storage assets run on x86."

In fact the VMAX is run by the Enginuity O/S and that cannot, as far as we know, run X86 applications. Therefore, logically, the engines running apps in the VMAX would need to be controlled by operating system software, such as Windows, Unix or Linux. But then these engines would have their app loaded and be relatively inflexible. Far better to have VMware's ESX control a set of VMAX engines and ship virtual machine (VM) containers in and out as required.

Burke did not say EMC was going to do this. He did point out this interesting fact: "In our demo labs most of our assets today are running as virtual appliances: VMXe, VPLEX, VNX, and Centera."

That means that storage controllers instantiated as virtual storage appliances could run on VMAX and the plot, the one we imagine we might be seeing, thickens. Burke said: "I can't confirm the leap you are making... [There's] no reason why any of our platforms couldn't host the EMC assets in that environment."

Imagine any and all EMC software assets running on VMAX, with it providing direct-attached storage, with compute close to storage. Looks like an integrated stack, doesn't it?

This is fascinating and, if it happens, other storage array vendors might feel they should follow the same direction. ®

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