Dell Storage: Making All the Right Moves?

This week's announcements at the inaugural Dell Storage Forum, which has attracted more than 300 customers and almost 250 channel partners, are intended to demonstrate the company's commitment to evolving from a storage reseller to a storage OEM, as well as how it plans to integrate its various storage acquisitions under the umbrella of its Fluid Data Architecture.

June 8, 2011

5 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla.--This week's announcements at the inaugural Dell Storage Forum, which has attracted more than 300 customers and almost 250 channel partners, are intended to demonstrate the company's commitment to evolving from a storage reseller to a storage OEM, as well as how it plans to integrate its various storage acquisitions under the umbrella of its Fluid Data Architecture, say company officials. Bracketed between the November 2007 acquisition of EqualLogic (iSCSI storage area networks) and this February's deal to buy Compellent (multiprotocol tiered SANs) , Dell has also bought what it calls other best-of-breed storage vendors, including Exanet (network-attached storage) and Ocarina Network (data compression and deduplication software).

Shipping in the next quarter, the Dell EqualLogic FS7500 will be the first combination of scale-out NAS and unified storage capabilities for this line, delivering up to 10 times more file share scalability than legacy unified storage offerings, says Dell. Targeted at midsize deployments, this product, which scales up to 510 TBytes (raw capacity), uses the Dell Scalable File System (DSFS), a high-performance, clustered file system originally developed by Exanet. DSFS brings in high-end caching, load-balancing and multithreading for fast I/O processing to the EqualLogic architecture, which will be made available to customers at no additional charge.

The FS7500 provides a unique option for Dell EqualLogic customers, says George Crump, lead analyst, Storage Switzerland, “although I'm not sure if the customer needs a pure NAS solution if the FS 7500 is the solution, at least not yet. The FS 7500 is a continuation of Dell's refinement of the file system it was after when it purchased Exanet a while back. The FS 7500 is today limited to four nodes and provides little additional data services other than the CIFS/NFS sharing and network I/O scaling. This strategy of limited data services makes sense, given the EqualLogic and eventually a Compellent back end. Why reinvent something that is already there?”

He believes that the FS 7500 will do well for a current or future EqualLogic customer that needs to add file services to the array, but where their primary needs can be served by iSCSI block. “That said, Dell needs to, and eventually will, address the larger NAS market by allowing more nodes per NAS cluster. When they do this it puts them squarely in the scale-out NAS market but with at least one advantage--integrated data services--that their competitors simply can't support.” Terri McClure, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, calls the unified storage announcement interesting. “We were impressed by the Exanet product way back when and thought it had tremendous potential. Exanet, unfortunately, had some funding and execution challenges. With Dell taking it to the enterprise and coming out with a unified system that is scale-out, that has all the advanced snap and replication features, it will make for an interesting 2H 2011.”

She says not many scale-out vendors can support block and file data and offer all the advanced features users have come to require in the enterprise. “Dell promises the new FS7500 will. That sets them up with a scalable solution that can support the growth associated with the new world of 'big data' we are now living in. It is all about scale now. This puts Dell head-to-head with NetApp, who is poised to deliver the next revision of OnTAP that brings a lot of enterprise-class features to its cluster mode, giving it a solution that can operate efficiently at scale. These types of scalable solutions will be the norm over time in the enterprise, and here we have Dell as one of the vendors leading the way. Did we ever think we’d say that about Dell storage?”Dell has also reworked the EqualLogic software with enhancements for iSCSI networking via Data Center Bridging (DCB) support, improved performance (up to 3 times) via automated load-balancing and enhanced integration with VMware environments. Scheduled for availability in the third quarter, version 5.1 will feature enhanced thin provisioning awareness with VMware vSphere 4.1 that will reduce recovery time and help mitigate the risk of potential data loss, says the company.

DCB allows for Ethernet to provide a lossless environment, which is critical for IP-based storage environments like iSCSi, says Crump. “In fact, Dell hinted that they are seeing a measurable performance gain in comparison to non-DCB environments. To the best of our knowledge, there is no one else with a iSCSI target that leverages DCB. Clearly there is a lot to dive into on this subject.”

Although it won't ship until the Fall, the Compellent line will be upgraded to 16-Gbps Fibre Channel capabilities. The company demonstrated compatibility between a Dell Compellent Storage Center SAN with a Brocade 6510 16-Gbit Fibre Channel switch and a Brocade 1860 16Gbit Fabric Adapter.

The company's other platform, the entry-level PowerVault line, added two new members: the MD3600f and 3620f arrays, which will ship June 14. They feature a total of eight 8-Gbps Fibre Channel ports (four per controller) that provide up to four redundantly connected servers in the configuration without needing a switch or 64 servers when using a switch. Additional storage capacity can be added, up to a maximum of 96 hard drives, via the PowerVault MD1200 and/or MD1220 enclosures. Customers can also mix 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch enclosures behind their base units for drive tiering that best matches their application needs. Within each enclosure customers can mix SSD, SAS, near-line SAS and self-encrypting drives.

Crump says a Fibre Channel PowerVault product addresses environments that need a less feature-ladened but fast Fibre Channel-based storage system. “This can do well in some [high-performance computing] environments and it could appeal to cloud providers looking to assemble their own storage system.”

Overall, he believes the company is making the right moves with its storage portfolio. “Dell is beginning to show a fair amount of conservatism when it comes to maturing their storage offering. While this can be frustrating at times to both users and analysts, it is the right thing to do. Make sure it works, then take the next step in scaling the solution.”

See more on this topic by subscribing to Network Computing Pro Reports Research: 2011 State of Storage (subscription required).

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