Chinese philosophy tells us that the concept of yin and yang are one of opposition and combination. Examples of such opposition combinations are easy to find; light and dark, bitter and sweet, and even order and chaos. So, why a quick overview on Chinese philosophy? Recently, I attended a technical event, Tech Field Day 16, and during a two-hour block of time, I was presented a duality of sorts. This duality came from one of the old storage guard, that being Dell EMC. During this block of time, we got a lesson in how vastly different oppositions can even exist in technical portfolios from vendors. What I speak of is the tale of the Dell EMC VMAX and the Dell EMC XtremIO.
Enter Order, the VMAX
Boring. No, this isn’t just myself going through my usual collection of swear words when it comes to everything (and I mean everything) I dislike about storage. Representatives from Dell EMC described the VMAX storage system as that very term. While the platform name might have changed over the 28-year career of this storage system (you might remember this system as the EMC Symmetrix), there hasn’t really been much done to this array over that course of time. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the system has gone through upgrades and such, but what I speak of is a complete overhaul and redesign from the ground up.
This platform is one that really doesn’t wow you with tons of features, per se. And honestly, there isn’t much in the term of excitement when talking about this array, especially if you are performing feature-by-feature analysis against competing systems. In fact, I harken this device to that of the American family staple, the minivan. In no way am I ever going to confuse or even bother to compare a minivan to that of a sports car, but when I think of the minivan, two terms come to mind: reliability and capacity.
Forgive the horrible analogy, but the VMAX is such that it’s been a rock-solid system over its lifetime. Throughout all the name changes and adaptations (I’m not going to call them architecture changes), the VMAX has been a system that many a Fortune 500 (or even Fortune 100) has called upon to be a reliability storage platform for Tier One (or even Tier Zero) systems. You don’t get to build a reputation like that without doing something right, but at the exact same time, not rocking the boat, so to speak, when it comes to adapting the architecture over time.
In all seriousness, it feels like all that happened in the last few years with the VMAX platform is that Dell EMC has created an all-flash version of their minivan. While that certain helps the platform start to achieve even more performance metrics, I find this equivalent to adding racing fuel to said minivan. Sure, you might go faster on the freeway, but, again, you didn’t buy the minivan to drag race on the freeway. You bought the minivan to protect your precious cargo (your family, in case you forgot) as you moved around from Point A to Point B.
Blindsided by Chaos, the XtremIO
If the VMAX was the consummate family vehicle of the Dell EMC portfolio, the XtremIO has had a past that leads one to believe it that the platform is best described (in car terms) as a racing motorcycle. With jet engines attached to it. And maybe even a couple of rockets for good measure. Without handle bars.
It doesn’t take long to do quick Google searches to see the checkered past of the XtremIO platform. While not exactly earning Charlie Sheen-esque bad levels of public relations, this platform has had many question whether it truly is the Tier One platform Dell EMC had claimed it to be. Certainly, I would stand on a mountain and shout down to the masses if I wasn’t achieving the level of expected performance or even had to go through a firmware update process that ended up requiring a forklift data migration (twice!) just to use the latest code.
Dell EMC made sure that the tone of discussion with the XtremIO 2 platform was that of calm growth. I would even say that there was an air of maturity to the product. It certainly felt as if the XtremIO 2 platform had learned lessons of its past and were making strides towards being a more mature product for the enterprise.
As a father to a four-year-old, I know what’s it like to watch my son struggle with even the most basic tasks, but I also have to temper my expectations about what he’s capable of until he grows and matures. There’s a part of me that wants to believe the first-generation XtremIO platform was the equivalent to my son. There’s been a lot of tantrums, a lot of yelling and screaming, but at the end of the day, I get a hug every night and peace of mind that my son grew a little more that day.
Honestly, it feels like the XtremIO team took a page out of the VMAX teams operating guide. Now, I’m sure there’s still some chaotic nature of the XtremIO platform that still needs some fine tuning, but I’m not going to judge it harshly for going through learning curves. If anything, Dell EMC should have realized the mistakes of rushing a product to market, but I get that they really had no choice compared to the competition.
That being said, there is something to be said about watching the youngster in your group grow up and start to realize the potential you might have (fairly or unfairly) thrust upon them. If VMAX was the example of what Dell EMC could provide to the tried and true enterprise, we see that it’s finally making strides to do the same for the XtremIO platform. Maturity has come to the platform and with it, I hope, is stability that puts the platform right next to the VMAX in the Dell EMC portfolio under “boring reliability”.