EMC Symmetrix 4200

1990 EMC Symmetrix 4200

Breakthrough product in use of small form factor drives in mainframe storage.

Why it's important

A mirrored (RAID 1) subsystem that was EMC’s entry into the storage subsystems on IBM mainframe systems. Subsequently enhanced, including other forms of RAID, the product family achieved greater than 50% market share in the IBM mainframe market – an unequaled and extraordinary penetration of this IBM market.


During most of the 1980's, EMC was a growing company developing various products as a supplier to the computer industry, but in the second half of the decade experienced severe economic problems as the result of defects in the disk drives it was then using. Following a difficult period, it cleaned up its products and held a continuing role in the computer industry, as a supplier of add-on memory products to the industry and of disk storage subsystems for the minicomputer industry. Dick Egan, who co-founded the company and served as chairman, was anxious to raise the company's role to a higher level. In the mid-1980's he hired Moshe Yanai, with his group of Israeli product developers. The new development team proceded to develop a new concept for a disk drive array system intended for use with IBM mainframe systems.

EMC's 1990 introduction of the Symmetrix 4200 series "Integrated Cached Disk Array", with up to 24 GB capacity, featured a large cache, an array of up to 24 disk drives and a number of reliability features such as redundant hardware, mirroring disk capability, etc. These features were well known in the industry, including amongst other products EMC's disk arrays for the AS/400. What was key to its success and uncommon at that time was that Symmetrix attached to an IBM compatible channel "as an IBM 3880 or an IBM 3990-2 storage controller and emulates 3370, 3380 or 3390 storage devices while still providing superior performance in any emulation mode." [1991Sym44xx] IBM mainframe disk drives used a variable record length recording format while the small OEM disk drives used a fixed block recording format. Emulation, that is, mapping the variable records of IBM onto the the fixed sectors of OEM disk drives while maintaining compatibility was the breakthrough technical accomplishment that enabled entry into the IBM mainframe market. The genesis of this breakthrough is unknown.

Initially Symmetrix used 1 GB (formatted) 5-¼-inch disk drives from Seagate (model unknown). The following year the drives were upgraded to 1.2 GB (formatted), most likely from Seagate.

Symmetrix made it possible for EMC to become the leading supplier of high performance mirrored disk subsystems for the mainframe market, with initial installations priced in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. The EMC impact was significantly helped during the early 1990's by IBM's lack of equivalent disk subsystems and Storage Technology's delays with its potentially competitive "Iceberg" program. EMC became the leading company in developing the market for storage systems for the enterprise market and in development of the industry's capability to concurrently store data in remote site mirror facilities. The real marketplace competition for EMC's Symmetrix series commenced by 1994, with significant competitive products from Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and Storage Technology, plus initial market entry by a half dozen other suppliers.

Until 1995, the only form of data redundancy offered by EMC was mirroring (RAID 1) which became a market disadvantage as competitors offered multiple RAID types.

However, due to annual enhancements with the Symmetrix series and very aggressive sales techniques, EMC continued for many years to hold more than half of the non-captive market for mainframe storage subsystems. Throughout the 1990's and into the next decade EMC introduced new Symmetrix models every year, with improvements designed to prevent competitors from advancing beyond EMC's product capabilities. As a result of stimulation and large rewards by the company's management, EMC's sales force was well known for aggressive sales methods, never giving up on a target sale, regardless of the effort required. It's well known that some EMC salesmen earned over a million dollars a year, as a reward for successful sales efforts.

Additional Information

EMC Milestones 1979 to current

EMC Symmetrix Documents in CHM Collection Date Published
Folder Barcode
Symmetrix 5200-3 ICDA: Entry-level capacity with advanced mainframe functionality and performance 1994 E8 102628425
Symmetrix 5000 ICDA Family Product Description Guide; Symmetrix 5500-9 ICDA The Terabyte Solution; Symmetrix 5200-9 ICDA A Balance of Capacity, Performance, and Availability 1994-1995 E3 102628446
Symmetrix Remote Data Facility (SRDF) Product Guide 1995 E3 102636830
[1991Sym44xx] ]Symmetrix Series Model 44xx Cached Disk Storage for IBM 1991-11 E3 102641685
Open Storage for Open Systems; Centriplex 2000 ICDA Systems Data Sheet; EMC Epoch Data Manager Data Sheet; Symmetrix 3000 ICDA Systems Data Sheet; EMC Epoch Enterprise Backup for Solaris Data Sheet; EMC Epoch Enterprise Backup for Novel NetWare Data Sheet 1995 E3 102641686
Symmetrix Remote Data Facility 1994-09 E3 102641687
Symmetrix Remote Data Facility 1995-04 E3 102641690
Symmetrix 5100-9 ICDA Entry-level capacity mainframe storage system; Symmetrix 5100-9M ICDA Entry-level capacity mainframe storage system; Symmetrix 5200-9 ICDA Medium-capacity mainframe storage system; Symmetrix 5200-9M ICDA Medium-capacity mainframe storage system; Symmetrix 5230-4 ICDA Medium-capacity mainframe storage system 1995-04 E3 102641691
Symmetrix 5500-2 and 5500-3 ICDA; Symmetrix 5500-9 ICDA; Symmetrix 5500-9M ICDA 1995-04 E3 102641692
Symmetrix Manager Graphical User Interface 1995-04 E3 102641693

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