EMC offers recycling upgrade plan

EMC introduced a high-end storage system this week that lets corporate customers reuse the disk drives and other components from their midrange Clariion storage arrays, giving users an inexpensive upgrade path to the new gear.

To convert a Clariion storage array to the vendor's new Symmetrix DMX800, users need to back up the Clariion array, load new Symmetrix microcode, install and configure a new DMX800 disk controller and retrieve the data from the drives, says Ken Steinhardt, director of technology analysis for EMC. EMC says the conversion is a field-upgradable process and costs depends on configuration.

The DMX800 is the company's first rack-mountable Symmetrix and contains 16 to 120 73G byte or 146G byte Fibre Channel drives operating at 2G bit/sec. EMC announced the box this week amid a larger storage announcement.

EMC is not alone in offering reuseable components. Most EMC competitors also allow drives and drive trays to be reused in certain systems. For example, IBM lets users reuse drives and trays from its 7133 SSA Disk Subsystem in an Enterprise Storage Server.

Most users say reusing storage components is smart and less expensive; a few users say the money you save with any kind of gear - storage or otherwise - is wasted on increased support issues and poor performance.

"We reuse existing disk drives in newer equipment we bring in-house," says Rich Banta, senior enterprise systems engineer for St. Vincent Hospital and Health Services in Indianapolis. Quite simply, Banta says, "It saves money."

While he did not say how much he's saved, Banta says he's reused Hewlett-Packard Co. drives from ProLiant servers in his storage-area network, and traded out drives from the SAN and used them as direct-attached storage in his servers.

Banta also has found a use for older storage gear in a SAN that is used for less business-critical data. "We've also reused 1 gigabit per second Fibre Channel SAN switches on our older [Compaq EMA 16000 SAN] when we upgraded our newer SAN to 2 gigabytes per second."

But he says users should only reuse equipment on a case-by-case basis. "It depends upon the application being supported, the amount of cache in the disk controller [and other factors]," Banta says. "[By reusing components], we've had significant savings and a zero-procurement cycle time."

The disadvantage to reusing equipment, Banta and other users say, isan increased number of service hours spent repairing the hardware and drives.

"[The speed and capacities of] disks are changing too rapidly - it's not worth taking the risk [of using old drives] or the performance hit," says Rocco Esposito, CTO of window-covering manufacturer Hunter-Douglas in Upper Saddle River, N.J., who sees component reuse as a huge waste of time.

"Smaller capacity drives also take up more power and floor space," says Esposito, who uses storage systems from EMC, HP and Sun. "The total cost is more expensive because of reliability loss and time to move components and reconfigure the system."

Another user, Jason Andrade, CTO of Internet mirror site PlanetMirror.com in Brisbane, Australia, says reusing components is a mixed bag.

"If you're turning over machines every two to three years, then you are dealing with equipment that is upgraded, and most of the key components, such as CPUs, disks and memory, aren't very reusable anyway," Andrade says.

"Only end-node peripherals, such as network adapters and host bus adapters, are practical to reuse," Andrade says. "When we reuse things like Fibre Channel adapters or network cards we can save significant amounts of money. For instance, a Fibre Channel host bus adapter, which cost US$1,500 three years ago, will still cost around $700 today."

Andrade manages a variety of equipment from Dell Computer Corp., EMC, Hitachi Data Systems Corp., Network Appliance Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. He says there are other disadvantages to re-using components such as disk drives in systems that have secondary use.

"Reusing components in disaster-recovery systems is not a bad idea, but again you want to weigh the risk factors - if your disaster-recovery plan relies on secondary storage, but that storage is more than 3 years old, then you are taking a higher level of risk inherent in that system," he says.

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