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Dell Storage: Making All the Right Moves?

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?”

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