Centerra vs. NetApp

Interestingly enough, my favourite Veritas sales guy from Strategic Technologies ( actually managed to do the virtually impossible.

He got me to thinking and questioning my blind believe in “what EMC says.”

I’m looking at a different options for WORM archiving right now.  Of course the first player in the game is the G5 Centerra.  It’s reportedly bulletproof, and when the auditors come through testing your compliance, their sales shtick is that “they just look at the centerra and wave it through”.  (Much like the san diego border patrol, right?)

So what got me thinking about the NetApp “Archive and Compliance Solution” is that it offers everything Centerra does, without locking you into the API that Centerra does.

One of the biggest problems with the Centerra is that you are locked into their technology.  Once you start archiving to centerra, it’s a nightmare to get off it should you decide to years down the line.  This is because there is no “filesystem” per-se to migrate off of.  Everything going to the centerra has to go through their API.

The Network Appliance product however offers a CIFS/NFS solution, so saving files to the archive can be as simple as copying files to a directory.  (I don’t know the details of how revisions are kept yet, I got about 100 pages of documentation that I was planning on going through this weekend, before the yard-work hit me. 😉 )

This means that not only can you browse the filesystem and copy anything out of it you want to, but that you can also migrate out of it with a minimal of fuss if you need to.

The CIFS/NFS solution also makes it more compatible than the Centerra.  Since the Centerra CAS system requires the Centerra API, a limited number of applications work with it.  Now as of this writing the Centerra meets my needs, however who knows what the higher-ups are going to decide to bring in.  And if they bring in a new application that A- requires archiving of data, and B- doesn’t support the Centerra, then we’re screwed and have to go out and get something new anyway.

Now the other bonus is that it’s my understanding that the price point of 4TB (Usable – Replicated) of NetApp storage is much more pleasant than 4TB (Usable – Replicated) of Centerra storage.

Now I know that most of my readership are Hitachi/NetApp people, so i know the way the responses to this are going to go.  My question is actually this:

Does anyone (other than my EMC sales team) see a compelling reason to stick to the Centerra?


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    • on June 18, 2007 at 4:57 am
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    There are a few other things with EMC Centera that bother me:

    – First of all you’re right: You’re locked with that technology in the archiving space. Only Archiving nothing else. That means if a customer wants to do Tier1 storage (let’s say FC array), Tier2 (let’s say ATA array or NAS) and Archiving, he has to go with at least 2-3 frames of different technologies. It’s not possible to have all in one frame. Missing the Unified Storage message!

    – At next you’re always dependent from the API integration of the ISV. It doesn’t matter if EMC announces a new API, it depends on the integration of the ISV. In some situations this can be really bad.

    – EMC tells customer always that you don’t have backup you’re Centera. Why? Because the performance of current backup integration are worse! They offer it but they know that it’s practically not working. To slow. But there is need for customers in some environments to backup their solution. The difference is in working with a CIFS/NFS solution. You can do a NDMP backup with much more speed and with an additional software feature you can backup in just a few minutes.

    – What about regeneration of a failed disk or node? How fast can it be recovered? From the technology point of view you have regenerate objects. The more objects you have the more time you need. If you’re disk has 5-10 million objects a regeneration can take 1-2 days. And that environment is quite normal. Think about a customer with TIFF or PDF documents in his archive. There are ways to improve it, e.g. using container but this always depends on the API integration in the application.

    – Have you ever seen the power consumption of a Centera compared to a NetApp solution? It’s getting more and more important to look at your power and BTU consumption. Centera uses up to 4x more than a comparable NetApp solution.

    – What about migration? Maybe after 3-5 years you want to migrate your data off Centera or to a new Centera. For the first point you have to migrate your data through the application. Because of the bad performance that can take time. A lot. For the second case you need the EMC PS to do that. Currently this is only an EMC offering where customers have to pay for. They can’t do it alone in a safe or compliant way with a kind of protocol. Who wants to do that? Compared to a NetApp solution where you migrate your data over NFS/CIFS or with easy to use applications which customers can do alone, EMC Centera sucks in that case.

    – Double Disk failure. What about a double disk failure? It’s not very unusual with SATA disks to have a a double disk failure. For Centera this could mean: Data Loss! And it doesn’t matter if you have replication enabled as replication is asynchronous with at least 2 minutes delay. Working with a RAID-DP solution it doesn’t matter if two disks go down at the same time. The concept is working.

    Overall EMC Centera is a one-way solution for customers. The concept works for very small archives with some things to be aware of but as your archive grows and it will grow you will see that the technology doesn’t scale!


    • on June 18, 2007 at 7:59 pm
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    When your company retires them in 6 months you have a rack full of 1U servers that you can take home and turn into a beowulf cluster???

  1. You know it’s funny, I know for a fact that there are a large number of addresses in my distro list, but absolutly none of them have stepped forward and even attempted to re-direct my interests.

    Could it be that the higher-functioning contingent within EMC (as illustrated by membership in 😉 ) actually agree?

    I know the little exposure I’ve had to Centerra I’ve heard good things about it. A contact at the Library of Congress loves the one he’s got in there. Once they got it set up it really has been fire and forget.

    But then again, LoC can afford to get locked into a something like that. A smallish start-up really can’t afford to get locked into that kind of high-end technology.

    We’ll see – for the moment we’re not spending money for whatever reason the lords at the top have come up with this week, so all of my projects are on hold.

    • on July 20, 2007 at 1:47 pm
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    Another bonus to a NetApp solution is that it’s not single purpose. You can have your Compliance volume, but you can also have nfs/cifs home directories on other disk. And iscsi or fcp luns. You might buy it as a single purpose device, but Netapp will be more than happy to give you eval licenses for you to play around with the full power of the system. Where dollars are thin, this versatility has great value.

    Another great feature is that you can easily upgrade the storage controller. From the lowest entry level controller to the highest end. It’s a simple head swap, potentially some changes to ifconfig statements (if eth ports change), or wwn changes/zoning changes in fcp environments. Can be done in minutes. And you can do it yourself. Though NetApp would certainly prefer you involve NetApp PS. 🙂

  2. We have multi terabyte WORM (Blu Ray) optical libraries behind each NetApp F-series appliance to offload fixed / static data from the NetApp. This way we don’t have to spend $500K every time our NetApp’s are running at full capacity. We are also able to reclaim primary space. There are a few vendors out there but the leading one is Phantom Data Systems in CT……talk to them, they have the NetApp certified WORM libraries….


    1. Does the NetApp do HSM itself or are you using a third party app like disk-xtender to manage the links?

      I’ve seen EMC’s Rainfinity app in play and it works, but I don’t think it has much in the way of tape/optical support.

      Do you worry about long-term risk due to laser-rot? I know that CD’s and DVD’s pose that rish, BD-Ram may as well but hasn’t been around long enough for a definitive test.

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