Unified storage wars: EMC vs. NetApp for SMBs and enterprises

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NetApp’s FAS and EMC’s VNX are probably the most talked-about and most popular of all unified storage systems available in the market today. For sure, there are other layers in the space, but you only have to concern yourself with FAS and VNX to ensure that you have the best systems now available.

The other companies in the unified storage systems space are not unknown. So far, IBM and HP both have products in this space. Other companies offering unified storage include Fujitsu, Dell, Synology, Huawei, BlueArc, Oracle, Overland, Symantec, and Quantum.

Yet, experts and observers invariably pit NetApp and EMC against each other.

If you are a business owner, which one should you choose? Here is a comparison of NetApp FAS and EMC VNX as they’re applied to small and medium sized businesses and bigger enterprises.

EMC is the current market leader in unified storage systems. For the whole year of 2012, the company raked in $6.3 billion in operating cash flow on the strength of its network storage and storage products. In 2013, EMC is expected to gain $23.5 billion in consolidated revenues.

EMC’s VNX has three distinct offerings for its unified storage systems (VNXe, VNX and VNX Gateways):

  • The EMC VNXe Series is ideal for a SMB. It offers solution-focused software that you can easily allocate, secure and manage. For small businesses that are looking to have a storage system that can readily support their commercial applications, this is the perfect choice. You don’t have to constantly monitor it, and you can scale from six to 150 disk drives and get 450 TB of capacity.
  • The EMC VNX Series is good for larger operations. Corporations and big companies can have a high performance storage system, which can also run virtual applications. The VNX series can unify your storage needs for all types of blocks, objects and files. You can utilize the VNX series for data warehousing and it works with both Hyper-V and VMware. It supports SAS, Flash and near-line SAS drives.
  • The EMC VNX Series Gateways, on the other hand, allows for network-attached storage for EMC SANs.

No matter how big or small your organization, you can scale with NetApp’s FAS series.

The FAS2200 series allows you to have a simple, flexible and affordable storage system. It can give you a maximum number of total disk drives ranging from 60 for the FAS2220 to 84 for the FAS2240-2. What’s more, you can set it up for less than $8,000 and it comes fully integrated with VMware and Windows to allow for simpler management. The FAS2200 is also cluster-ready, meaning it can grow as your small business grows.

For big business needs, however, NetApp offers the FAS6200 Series. More than just performance, the FAS6200 series promises superior availability by making use of non-disruptive operations. This means that even if you have to upgrade or undergo system modifications, you can still access your storage. It also allows you to detect risks that affect your system’s availability, and NetApp also guarantees well-protected data on its systems.

Just to give you an idea, Netapp’s FAS6200 Series can have a maximum of 1,440 disk drives available for your storage needs. Also, its FAS6290 has a maximum capacity of close to 6,000 terabytes. You could get up to 192 gigabytes of RAM, 16TB Flash cache, eight 10 Gigabit Ethernet connectors and 24 PCIe expansion slots.

All FAS series products run on the Data ONTAP operating system, which already has all the software you need for efficient storage, management and better performance.

Two points for comparison

  1. Both NetApp and EMC have a centralized storage management solution. NetApp has OnCommand management software that uses Operations Manager for multiple storage systems and System Manager for single storage systems. On the other hand, EMC has Unisphere that allows for single sign-on for its web interface.
  2. EMC uses solid-state drives and automates storage tiering via its Fully Automated Storage Tiering program. NetApp, meanwhile, creates a virtual storage layer. It does not use any software.

Other than these two points it would seem that EMC and NetApp are on equal footing. But it might be instructive to see how NetApp is very competitive. Take a look at the prices. In 2011, EMC came out with VNXe and promised that the cheapest product would retail at $10,000. Not a bad investment for SMBs who are looking for a unified storage systems solution. However, just 11 months later, NetApp introduced the FAS2240, with a price tag of around $7,500.

Why get a unified storage system?

A unified storage system allows you to access, manage, store and run files and blocks from a single point. It allows you to do away with expensive hardware acquisition. For example, instead of having a network-attached storage (NAS) for your files and then having a separate RAID disk array to handle block-based storage, you can have both in a unified storage system.

Also, a unified storage system is your first step to solving performance and capacity problems without having to spend a lot of time tweaking it or administering it.

To choose the best unified storage system for your business, it is important to know what you and your organization needs first. Then you should test to see whether NetApp or EMC has the products that best address these needs. It could also be products from another vendor, just as long as you think it is the best solution for your business.

Also, make sure that the solution you are looking at allows you to scale up or down, depending on what you might or might not need in the future. Also, don’t forget about high availability.

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