SANs: EMC VMAXe and HP 3PAR V400

If you’re in the market for a new enterprise-class storage array, both EMC and HP/3PAR have good options for you. Toward the end of 2011, we began evaluating solutions from these two vendors with whom we have history and solid relationships. On the EMC side, we’ve grown up through a CX300 in 2006 and into two CX3-40’s in 2008. At the end of 2008, we deployed a 3PAR T400 at our production site and brought back that CX3-40 to consolidate it with the one at our HQ. It’s been three years hence, and our needs call for new tech.

As is the nature of technology, storage has made leaps and bounds since 2008. What once was unique and elevating to 3PAR–wide striping and simplified provisioning from one big pool of disks–has become common place in arrays of all classes. We used to liken it to replacing the carpet in a room with furniture. It’s a real chore when you have to painstakingly push all the chairs and tables into a corner (or out of the room altogether!) when you want to improve or replace the carpet. With disk abstraction and data-shifting features, though, changes and optimizations can be made without the headaches.

Back to EMC & HP/3PAR… This time around, we are stepping up. The last array was architected for 15,000 IOPS. Now we’re looking at ~100,000 and tiered storage (near-line, fiberchannel, and solid-state). In particular, we are focusing on EMC’s VMAXe line, which is a more entry-level version of their VMAX (formerly Symmetrix), and HP’s 3PAR V400/800, which they also call the P10000. Let the bidding begin!

After several rounds of design calls and quoting (never take the first figures the vendors give), we honestly have two relatively equivalent solutions on most aspects. Both tier, both migrate hot and cold data up and down, respectively, and both provide five to six 9’s availability (99.999% = 7 minutes of unplanned downtime per year). Furthermore, from a sales perspective, both vendors wrestled their solutions to around $600,000, which is a far cry from the million+ that the original quotes carried.

Technically, it’s pretty even. Our differentiation comes in two, more relational qualities with which you may fully disagree, but we can only speak from our perspective. On the HP side, our staff individually and collectively have had terrible experiences with HP support (stemming as far back as 1995). Whether it was response times, attentiveness, or technical acuity, HP has consistently failed us. Thus, it was a sad day for us when HP acquired 3PAR, as we had a good history with 3PAR’s sales and support. After expressing this to the HP sales team, they assured us that things have changed, but it seems doubtful (we had a support call on our existing 3PAR array in November 2011, and the HP engineers had no clue how to address the issue–and they couldn’t even get through to a higher level support).

On the other hand, we have a 3PAR array on the floor that has been a delightful experience from the start. Provisioning is a cinch and it’s been reliable. Our EMC CX3-40 has been equally reliable, so this isn’t really an advantage, but rather a balancing out to the prior support downside.

The point? I recommend both. If the 3PAR V400 continues the legacy of the T-series we have, you’ll have low administrative overhead, good performance, and a solid asset (not factoring in support to which I can’t objectively speak). On the other hand, EMC has really made leaps and bounds in leveraging its relationship with VMware and integrating the various technologies that it has purchased over the past several years. It used to be a disparate jumble of offerings, but the team is coming together. And the VMAXe brings the enterprise-class into mid-range reach.

If you’re in the market for a SAN, we’d love to hear your evaluation experience as well as what you decide. And the cherry on the top is the implementation–how did it go? Let us know!

Last updated: January 9, 2012

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