Expected to reach $1.2 billion in sales by 2015, enterprise flash/SSDs will still represent only a small fraction of the more than $16 billion that will be spent on storage for traditional IT and cloud hyperscale datacenters. However flash sales are outgrowing disk and Dell is looking to grab a bigger slice of an expanding flash storage array pie currently dominated by Violin Memory (19% of the market), ahead of EMC (16%), IBM (15%), NetApp (11%), Hitachi (7%), Nimbus (6%), Pure Storage (6%), Whiptail (5%), and the rest of the pack (14%).
Dell is coming out with a new all-flash Compellent storage solution that it said costs less than a comparable 15K disk drive solutions, as well as new research which picked it as the top overall vendor of choice for organizations using or planning to deploy flash/SSD technologies. “We’re changing the economics and bringing flash to a whole new set of customers,” said Bob Fine, Director of Product Management, Dell Storage.
After testing the all-flash Compellent array with automated tiering that moved data between different kinds of flash (as well as disk), George Crump, Lead Analyst, Storage Switzerland, said Dell “doubled down on their existing architecture, tuned it for flash and delivered what their mainstream enterprise customers need: safe, reliable, full-featured performance. The mainstream data center, made up of mixed workloads (databases, virtual server infrastructures, VDI) needs performance, typically in the 50k to 100k IOPS range per workload, not extreme performance as in millions of IOPS. In these mainstream environments storage system reliability and consistency are as important as extreme performance.”
Back in June Dell announced it would deliver the Compellent Flash Optimized Solution. It said the array mixes both SLC and MLC flash storage, with the option of also adding hard disks in the same rack, at a quarter of the price of all-SLC-based offerings, and for approximately the same price as a disk solution for the same types of workloads.
Crump said Dell’s claims of a $5 to $10-per-GB price point for this solution – which certainly puts it in line with other hard drive equipped enterprise class arrays – is valid. “More importantly, it’s based on native capacity not a theoretical statistic like deduplication efficiency.”
The All-Flash Array has a unique twist to it that should be of interest to many potential customers when trying to curtail costs, added Crump. “The ITALS twist comes from its ability to add hard drive storage enclosures instead of just flash enclosures.” Customers can start with all-flash and add disk if and when warranted to reduce the overall cost per GB.
“Simply put, with an all-flash array like what Dell is delivering to the market, you should be able to do more with the same hardware while spending less time fine tuning the storage for performance. And you will be able to afford it, since it is the same cost as enterprise disk.”
Dell is not unique in its claims to offer offer superior performance at better-than-disk economics. In fact the trick is to find an existing or new storage vendor who doesn’t. Last month EMC unveiled the VNX flash-only configuration (VNX-F) that delivers consistent high performance at lower latency compared to all disk or hybrid versions of the VNX.
In August Violin announced its 6264 flash Memory Array, at less than $5 per gigabyte. In July Diablo Technologies brought flash even closer to the CPU than PCIe with its Memory Channel Storage (MCS), which allows applications to leverage the benefits of flash memory connected directly to the processor’s memory controllers.
Dell, which will be going private as it tries to bootstrap itself from a predominantly PC vendor to a complete IT solutions supplier like HP and the PC-less IBM, also showcased the results of a new enterprise flash survey that it didn’t initiate, but decided to sponsor after the results were finalized, said Fine. According to the survey, Dell bested EMC, HP, IBM, NetApp and others by six or more percentage points, making it “the top choice among IT leaders, who have selected it as the leading vendor for deploying flash/SSDs.”
The ITIC/Storage Strategies NOW survey, Enterprise Use Cases for Solid State Storage, released in August, shed new light on how organizations will deploy these new technologies, said Principal Analyst Deni Connor in a prepared statement. “Among the findings from over 400 respondents are that 37% will deploy SSDs/Flash in existing storage arrays.”
Other key findings included:
-32% of the respondents surveyed have definitive plans to deploy SSDs;
-43% are spending from $101,000 to up to $500,000 annually on storage resources;
-server virtualization has been highlighted as the primary use for SSDs/Flash; and,
-31% indicated that they will use SSDs/Flash to bolster performance for OLTP.
Although called an enterprise survey, the respondents who have chosen Dell are representative of the large numbers of small-to-mid sized organizations where Dell has a leading market share, in terms of numbers of accounts, said Jim Bagley, Senior Analyst, SSG-NOW. “The fact that these organizations are deploying Flash in their systems is indicative of the advantages of Flash for organizations of all sizes.”
The price per capacity still favors HDD over SSD for large capacity drives (ie SATA 3-4TB), he said, but on performance drives the cost is closing and in some applications, particularly where performance is more important than capacity, the use of SSDs is easily justified. “Dell is aggressively pricing SSDs in its systems and this should help the adoption rate.”
Although somewhat reticent in commenting on another firm’s analysis, Mark Peters, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, called the results interesting, “but of course there will still be a battle with all-comers…major and minor. I don’t foresee anyone laying down their arms and calling it quits!”
He agrees that price (at least, or perhaps only, when measured in the traditional $/GB way) is a major barrier to wider flash adoption. “It is economics and economics alone that has created the storage hierarchy in the first place – after all, if all storage had an identical TCO, who wouldn’t have a lot more flash?
“So, Dell’s move is certainly going to tip more users to either a ‘close enough- or more than enough – tipping point’. It’s a very ‘in-your-face’ move by Dell….but let’s not forget that its Compellent platform also has excellent integrated data tiering (Data Progression) that helps drive the efficiency even more.”
The company said its new solution supports high performance and data-intensive workloads with full enterprise-class features, and when tiering among dual flash drive types and spinning disks, organizations can achieve:
-smaller footprints, reducing rack space by up to 84%;
-improved performance, reducing latency by up to 90%; and,
-reduced costs by approximately 56% compared to traditional spinning arrays.
Customers realize that flash can be a game changer technology, but the number one barrier to widespread adoption is cost, said Fine. “When customers look at that combination (MLC, SLC and disk), that’s where Dell comes out on top. It’s not just putting in the drives… it’s utilizing them effectively.”
Initially, Fine expects current customers to take advantage of the new solution. “We think the largest economic advantage is to existing customers.” They can take advantage of the hybrid solution without having to do a forklift upgrade. However this combination of performance and avoiding a forklift upgrade in the future will also bring flash to whole new set of customers, he added.
The bottom line, said Fine, is that Dell made a very bold claim about the economic value that we are providing through our automated tiering, and now we’re delivering, and shipping not just ultra-cool technology, but providing customers a very significant economic advantage. The other advantage is that by combining the best of flash and disk – in one box – customers don’t have to mix and match different vendors.
In addition to the new array, and the survey, Dell also announced the Compellent SC280 dense enclosure, which it said offers the best rack unit density of any major storage solution with up to 2.8 times more capacity than competing 2U 3.5-inch disk drive enclosures. With capacity of up to 336 terabytes of hard drives in a 5U enclosure, it can be used in one solution that tiers data from high-performance flash drives down to high-capacity, cost-optimized storage within a single array.