EMC plots software-defined data center journey from ViPR storage virtualization base

Unless you’ve not been paying attention over the last year, you’ve heard a lot about software-defined data centers. Nearly every legacy and new-look IT vendor has its own take on making the entire data center more programmable via software and less dependent on specialized, proprietary and pricey hardware.

EMC logoVMware(s vmw) is charting its course using its virtualization prowess and Nicira’s software-defined networking, which it bought last year. It’s no surprise that VMware parent and storage leader EMC(s emc) is pinning its strategy on software-defined storage technology that it’s calling ViPR.

The first software deliverables — and it’s all software built by a team led by Amitabh Srivastava, the former Microsoft(s msft) cloud exec who joined EMC in 2011 — will be outlined Monday at EMC World in Las Vegas. But, here’s how Jeremy Burton, EMC’s CMO and executive vice president, outlined the plan for me on Friday.

First: A new control plane will let admins manage physical assets, including storage arrays, to create virtual arrays and storage pools and then provision them and make them available in a service catalog for users, Burton said. EMC likens the software to a universal remote control that can operate multiple devices. For most storage, ViPR will discover what storage assets are available and allow provisioning. And if there is “smart” storage available, it will offload processing to that array to handle the data path.

Second: A new data plane will initially focus on data objects — at first those stored in Amazon’s S3 by the third quarter and then  HDFS by year’s end, Burton said. ViPR data services will also support OpenStack Swift-compatible REST APIs as well as existing EMC Atmos and VNX storage and even storage from rival NetApp, Burton said.

From the press release: “For traditional workloads that utilize file and block [storage], EMC ViPR steps out of the way and lets the underlying array fulfill the role of Data Plane.” But for new web-scale, big data applications, it provides Object Data Services, which is where the support Amazon S3 and OpenStack Swift REST APIs and HDFS access methods comes in. Of course it will support existing NFS and iSCSI protocols that drive much of enterprise storage now. That heterogeneous  support means that customers can, depending on the workload type, configure their services as they see fit without necessarily  having to worry about what storage is under the covers.

IDC analyst Vernon Turner said EMC ViPR is about much more than “storage virt.” Instead, it “takes many of the elements needed to create the software-defined data center [including] wide-spread orchestration — so it can properly deliver cloud services.’

EMC, which made its fortune selling big, expensive storage hardware, has shown a willingness to cannibalize its own business before others can eat it for them. Burton said the design point was cloud, and the first targeted companies will be service providers, he said. “The design goal is no single point of failure … and ability to scale out,” he said. Service providers, including telcos and big hosting companies, are looking for ways to stave off incursions into their businesses by insurgents, especially Amazon(s amzn) Web Services.

Asked if EMC/VMware spinout Pivotal will use the new software as a foundational technology, Burton said the “Let me just say that Paul Maritz is one of Amitabh’s best friends right now.”

Maritz, who is Pivotal’s CEO, “wants a cheap massively scalable store for what he’s building,” Burton said. “I think Paul’s mission is to be cloud-agnostic but he also believes HDFS will be foundational layer and we intend to be primary provider of that layer.”