Compellent: Rising To The Enterprise Challenge

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Compellent and spend some time talking with them on a few hot topics. High on my list to talk about was getting their impression of the bidding war for 3Par. We discussed that subject and much more. I have been meaning to blog about Compellent for some time, taking a deeper look at their Auto Tiering capability, which is leading Compellent into enterprise opportunities. It appears the time is right to provide a glimpse into a storage company th

Tom Trainer

October 8, 2010

7 Min Read
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Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Compellent and spend some time talking with them on a few hot topics.  High on my list to talk about was getting their impression of the bidding war for 3Par.  We discussed that subject and much more.  I have been meaning to blog about Compellent for some time, taking a deeper look at their Auto Tiering capability, which is leading Compellent into enterprise opportunities. It appears the time is right to provide a glimpse into a storage company that has started to take on the enterprise challenge.  

One topic we discussed was Live Volume. Live Volume has been talked about by Compellent for a couple of years. First there were some teaser blogs on the company's website describing what was to come and how it would help in an IT environment that required duplicate copies of data to be located in disparate locations. Based upon Compellent's description of Live Volume, one could easily envision two live asynchronous, and perhaps bi-directional replication operations between two storage controllers, or storage clusters, and how that would be valuable in some site failure scenarios. It seemed like a business continuity and disaster recovery solution was in the works.  As it turns out, time and testing has proven Live Volume across multiple connectivity protocols and within a VMware Vmotion environment.

Today, based on an evolved Live Volume architecture, Compellent supports the offering within an active Vmotion environment. In fact, Live Volume can detect when VMware Vmotion moves a virtual machine from one server to another.  Immediately after the detection of the virtual machine move, Live Volume will flag the replicated secondary volume as the new primary and will automatically reverse replication direction.  

Should the virtual machine move back to its original server, Live Volume will automatically reverse the direction of replication again and flag the original primary volume as back to primary again. Compellent supports this functionality across Fibre Channel, or iSCSI - naturally users of an iSCSI solution are encouraged by the company to utilize 10GbE for better replication performance.  

From an architectural perspective, the number of Live Volume pairings is limited only to the available bandwidth, although I anticipate the company will release best practices guides and reference architectures to assist its partners and customers with practical implementation.  Live Volume has been in General Availability (GA) for some time now, and Compellent considers Live Volume to be a family of products. I am sure we will see some number of Live Volume family members announced and in GA in the near term.   The current model controllers from Compellent have done well in the mid-range and low-end enterprise computing space, as well as providing good experiences for cloud providers such as Savvis who have selected Compellent as its storage vendor for its Savvis Symphony next generation cloud infrastructure platform. In my opinion it's time for Compellent to take a bigger leap in the enterprise space with a more robust and higher performance controller technology. My gut sense is that the company may be very close to doing just this and it could very well extend their reach further into greater enterprise opportunities.    

I had a few questions for Compellent revolving around storage management and enhancements to Enterprise Manager that Compellent customers have suggested, but which I hadn't had opportunity to review with the Company. One question I had was how have they integrated Enterprise Manager with VMware? I was surprised to learn that Enterprise Manager is now integrated with VMware vCenter and appears as a tab within vCenter.  

Also, Enterprise Manager can now manage VMware data stores, adding, deleting, and recovering storage space as required for specific virtual machine requirements. This makes managing Compellent storage within a VMware environment much easier for a VMware administrator, or for a storage administrator in the VMware environment.

One Compellent customer, BioWare, a gaming company, recently termed Compellent's Enterprise Management enhancements for vCenter as "bad a**."  Clearly, this customer is an Enterprise Management power user and is enjoying the enhancements to the product.  

With regard to vSphere and vStorage, we spoke candidly. I asked Compellent about the plan for plug-ins for vSphere 4.1. and vStorage support. Essentially, the company fully intends to be firmly in the loop with VMware and has publicly stated its intent to deliver the vSphere client plug-in in Q4 of this year.  vStorage APIs for Array Integration (commonly referred to as VAAI support) is another area where Compellent was crystal clear on their plan to deliver features like Full Copy Offload, Scaleable Lock Management for enterprise environments and cloud  services providers.  In my opinion, and given the overall state of development for most storage providers, it would be reasonable to anticipate Compellent rolling out support for these functions in the first half of 2011 or sooner.

Another area of interest for me within Compellent is technical support. To be clear, I'm talking about the ability to provide global, 24x7xForever technical support to an end user who is banking their business--and perhaps their job--on a vendor's ability to support them when things go wrong and problems need rapid resolution. As technology companies come into existence and begin selling their wares, support tends to be a nagging problem and a competitive sticking point.

In many cases, support can be the chasm that inhibits a vendor from ever being considered to be an "enterprise" product provider.  Confidently, I can state that Compellent has crossed the chasm and has put the infrastructure in place to provide 24x7xForever support for its customers. Compellent's support infrastructure within its headquarters is simple in its design, yet powerful in its delivery capability. The companies 24x7 support engineers are physically located within the development engineering organization.  Why is this important?  The answer is simple:  Support engineers are an arms-length away from the engineering gurus who can provide the deepest level of support at a moments notice when required.  Most storage companies that have crossed the support chasm have organized there global support teams in such a fashion.  

In fact, Compellent reports that a prime decision making factor for customer Hieinken Netherlands was its support organization and how well it stacked up against its next closest competitor for the storage business. Clearly, Compellent has taken on the serious business of global, 27x7xForever technical support capabilities.

With regard to auto-tiering, Compellent has been a pioneer with this feature. There's no doubt they have a lot of experience under their belt with where it fits, where it doesn't, and how to fine-tune the functionality. There is much more to be said in this area, so I am taking a deeper look into this functionality and plan to release a new report this quarter addressing automated data tiering, or what I refer to as adaptive data optimization, and its impact on today's enterprise computing model.  Finally, we got around to discussing the 3Par acquisition by HP.  My question here we fairly simple, is Compellent the next storage acquisition target? Their response was short and to the point: "It's flattering to think so, but we are steadfastly focused on delivering our storage solutions and increasing our market share." Okay, I get that. And I even find it admirable that the company is marching forward and not getting caught up in the public frenzy that was the 3Par acquisition. Staying focused is a very good thing.

So, I was happy to have time to speak with the company, and glad that I had an opportunity to hear how this once start-up storage company is so focused on providing an enterprise class storage solution for its customers and prospects.  In my opinion, there is no doubt that Compellent intends to capitalize on its successes and steadily move toward selling is wares into the enterprise data center. Let's remember that the enterprise data center in and of itself  is changing in its very nature and definition (i.e. VMware and budding Hyper-V), and new enterprise storage vendors will emerge and rise to the challenges that these new data center environments create. In my opinion, Compellent is now there, taking on the enterprise challenge and firmly planted in the enterprise mix. At the date of posting, Compellent is not a client of Analytico, The IT Analyst nor Tom Trainer.

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