EMC VNXe 3100: Sweet entry-level NAS and SAN

EMC delivers an all-purpose, unified storage array tailor-made for the IT generalist and the small-business budget

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The VNXe at a glance
The VNXe hardware wouldn't appear to set it apart from much of its entry-level competition. The smaller VNXe 3100 can be shipped with either one or two controllers equipped with dual-core processors, supporting up to 96 3.5-inch SAS and NL-SAS disks (48 disks in a single-controller configuration). The larger VNXe 3300 is always shipped in a dual-controller, quad-core configuration and supports up to 120 disks while also adding support for flash SSDs. Both models can be upgraded with so-called eSLIC interface cards, which currently add 1Gbps (3100 and 3300) or 10Gbps Ethernet functionality (on the 3300 only).

From a software perspective, the VNXe includes file-level NFS and block-level iSCSI compatibility out of the box, with Active Directory-integrated CIFS-based NAS functionality as an option. Additional features such as local, demand-allocated snapshots, remote replication, and application-aware replication are available through a simple add-on license on the VNXe 3300, while the VNXe 3100 includes local snapshots in the base license. Storage management is handled via the extremely easy-to-use, on-array Unisphere for VNXe interface. A serial or SSH-based command-line interface is also available, but it would generally be implemented only at the behest of EMC support or by very advanced users.

From a high-availability standpoint, the VNXe operates in an active-active controller model. While a given storage resource (file level or block level) is always served by only one of the two controllers, both controllers can be configured to actively serve different volumes at the same time. Thus, the performance of both controllers can be leveraged simultaneously -- though this requires a bit of planning to do well in practice.

Similarly, the all-important write caches are mirrored between the controllers, ensuring that a controller failure will never result in data loss. Even the least expensive, single-controller VNXe 3100 is equipped with a cache mirror in place of the second controller. While you may not avoid prolonged downtime with a single controller setup, you will at least avoid data loss.

Out of the box
When unboxing the VNXe, the very first thing you'll find is a poster-sized getting started guide. This was not the first time I've seen one of these, but I was impressed with its thoroughness in walking the user through all of the steps of configuring a VNXe, from initial setup to presenting storage.

Interestingly, one of the very first steps was to register for an account on EMC's PowerLink support portal. This would turn out to be an important and decidedly necessary step, as the portal is the source for the initial setup wizard, core software updates, license registration, and remote support.

After I had racked up the array and attached its management ports to the network, I downloaded the setup wizard from the PowerLink portal and installed it on my laptop. Then I placed the laptop on the same network segment (VLAN) as the management interfaces and fired up the setup wizard. Within a few seconds, it had detected the VNXe and allowed me to address the management interfaces. From there on out, the configuration of the array could be completed through the onboard Unisphere management interface.

Into the Unisphere
The slick, Flash-based Unisphere management interface is divided into five major segments, each of which is populated with no more than eight large, descriptive buttons. This simplicity means you can usually jump from the main splash screen to any common task in two or three clicks -- including checking the hardware status, reviewing storage usage, deploying a new storage volume, opening a live chat with support, and ordering customer-replaceable hardware.

The crisp and clean Unisphere GUI makes it easy for accidental storage admins to find what they need.
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