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EMC dodges question on Centera performance

The devil appears to be in the details around the performance numbers of Centera, but EMC is keeping these under lock and key

EMC Corp. announced a slew of enhancements to Centera Monday, its flagship archiving system, but neglected to share some important data about the apparent improved performance of the product.

Buried somewhere toward the bottom of six press releases EMC said it has significantly improved the performance and manageability of Centera.

But unfortunately EMC's press releases do not get specific. The company claims CentraStar Version 2.3, the latest operating system for Centera, delivers "up to a two times improvement in write performance, and a more than two times increase in the read performance" of the box. This would be useful information if EMC actually shared the numbers behind these claims; however after repeated requests by, it has declined to provide this data.

EMC measures the performance of Centera in objects per second, not megabytes per second, and claims to read and write hundreds of objects per second. However, objects can be different sizes, so this doesn't mean much.

John Halamka, chief information officer of CareGroup Healthcare System, which includes Harvard Medical School among its member hospitals, is a major EMC user and has 35 TB of medical images stored on Centera. "Pulling data off this product is about three to four times slower than the Symmetrix, but it's meant as an archive solution so there's a perceived lag time to retrieve data," he said. However, he added, "Doctors need information when they need it; if they click on an icon they want a result. Anything that makes this product faster will make it easier to sell to our doctors … The affordability of Centera is very good; we will purchase more if they improve the performance," he said.

A source close to EMC, who is familiar with the workings of Centera and who requested anonymity, told SearchStorage that EMC doesn't have much to brag about where the recovery performance of this product is concerned, which might explain why the company is keeping the performance data under lock and key.

"The time to recover data from the Centera is really the hot point; it's painfully slow, worse than tape," the source said. He explained that the issue affects users who would want to make a tape (or disk) copy of data on the Centera, in the event that the Centera failed or they simply wanted a tape to ship offsite. The restore time would be to restore the data to the Centera, to make it available to whatever application is going to pull it off and to read it.

"We heard from a few customers about this, it wasn't a loud din … The Centera doesn't typically require recovery as we already keep a second copy of the data inside the same Centera," said Roy Sanford, vice president of the Centera division. There were enough customers, however, to prompt EMC to develop an NDMP (network data management protocol) product in May 2003 called Backup Connector to enable users to pull files from the Centera to store on tape.

Two weeks ago, SearchStorage asked EMC how long it would take to recover a terabyte of data using the Backup Connector product. We still haven't had a response.

Besides the read and write performance enhancements, EMC said Centera now "self-heals two to six times faster." But again, EMC doesn't provide a unit of measurement or a starting number so this claim doesn't mean much, either.

Compliance upgrades

For compliance environments, EMC has integrated Legato EmailXtender e-mail archiving application with the Centera API to enable users to archive e-mail content from Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes to the Centera.

CentraStar Version 2.3 also offers new retention classes of data for organizations complying with government regulations.

Specifically, companies can now change retention policies for an entire class of content instead of managing each piece of content individually, making it easier to deal with both planned and unforeseen corporate policy or regulatory changes, an EMC spokesman said.

Responding to European regulations around protecting an individual's privacy, EMC has created an "audited delete" function that permits an application to address this regulatory requirement through a tightly controlled process. Basically, it means that when an employee leaves a company, their data is automatically deleted.

Lastly, a configurable default retention period feature allows storage administrators to specify a default retention period in the event an application does not or cannot assign one. This is common in financial institutions that have many homegrown applications without this feature.

There are two other new products: CARS (content archiving retrieval solution) for Documentum; and CARS for Mobius. The former means that EMC has ported Documentum's content management software to the Centera API and enables users to include content created in this application to reside on the Centera; and CARS for Mobius enables users to bring inactive storage, specifically data stored on mainframes, onto the Centera.


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