Dell Extends Flash-As-Cheap-As-Disk To EqualLogic Platform

AUSTIN, TEXAS: Newly privatized Dell is sticking close to home for its annual IT event, Dell World 2013, which runs December 11-13, but gets a preemptive strike in a day early with a number of announcements. One of the highlights of the news is the extension of its messaging first announced on the Compellent platform back in June, and GA in October, to its platform.

This is an entirely new platform, with enhancements to the controller, software and algorithms for dealing with , said Travis Vigil, Executive Director, Storage. In general we’re seeing 2 to 3x improvement in performance, depending upon workload; i.e. at 2.4x, and at 2x, he said. “It truly is cheaper than disk.”

Vigil said they can now do an apples-to-apples comparison with , and come in 50% less than the list price for a comparable system. Dell is also maintaining backward compatibility, all the way back to systems sold 7 years ago, he said.

In addition to all-flash EqualLogic at the price of disk, the key news includes: up to three times performance improvement; and an up to 48% capacity reduction with the introduction of file system data reduction software. EqualLogic has an installed base of 57,000 customers and is adding another 1,000 on a monthly basis, said Vigil. While small businesses account for almost half, the midmarket represents around 35% and enterprise holds the remaining 18-20%.

In mid-October, only weeks away from closing his $25 billion privatization deal, CEO Michael Dell said as a private company he will invest in research and development and focus on beating the competition. With Carl Icahn and his privatization battle now in the rear view mirror, he said, now he can focus on bringing together his acquisitions – including Quest, Wyse, SonicWALL and others – into one seamless solution for partners to offer customers.

Vigil said one of the reasons for going private was to accelerate the company’s investments into its enterprise portfolio. “You’ve seen two big announcements this year, Compellent and EqualLogic, and we will accelerate going forward…”

Reducing the company’s dependence on commodity PCs, servers and even storage has been necessary, based on the last few quarters’ market results. PC sales have been declining for six quarters, with the most recent drop of 8.6% in Q3 making for the lowest shipment volume since 2008. At 11.6%, Dell was significantly behind Lenovo (17.6%) and HP (17.1%), although up 1% year-on-year.

Q3 server results weren’t much better, with the overall market up 1.9% in shipments, but down 2.1% in revenues. Dell (16.4%) held down third place in revenues, behind HP (27.6%) and IBM (22.9%). It dropped -3.5% YoY, compared to a 2.2% gain by HP and an -18.9% plummet by IBM.

Commodity hell continued in the storage market, with Q3 revenues down (-3.5%) for a third consecutive quarter. Other than fifth-place NetApp, the top disk vendors all took in lower revenues. Dell’s revenues declined -7% on 11.4% of the market, less than half of market-leading EMC (23.7% market share), whose revenue dropped -1.3%.

Dell’s storage roots go back to those mystical days in Michael’s dormitory; before he started selling PCs, he kick-started the company’s renewed focus on storage with the 2007 acquisition of EqualLogic (iSCSI SANs). Prior to picking up Compellent (multiprotocol tiered SANs) in early 2011, it also added a variety of other acquisitions, including Exanet (NAS) and Ocarina (data compression and deduplication).

One of the unusual aspects of Dell’s flash portfolio is a novel strategy that 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. “Designation of an SLC Tier and an MLC Tier is a unique concept and allows tuning of hardware for a given workload at a new level of granularity,” said Storage Strategies Now’s Jim Bagley.

Although not the first to claim this price-performance, Dell is one of the bigger vendors to do so, as it looks to carve out a larger slice of the enterprise flash/SSD market which is expected to reach $1.2 billion in sales by 2015. It has a long way to go, with the flash storage array market currently dominated by Violin Memory (19%), followed by EMC (16%), IBM (15%), NetApp (11%), (7%), Nimbus (6%), (6%), and (now , at 5%).

Dell may not be a top flash vendor yet, but according to August’s ITIC/Storage Strategies NOW survey, Enterprise Use Cases for Solid State Storage, it 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 survey also reported that: 37% f the respondents will deploy SSDs/Flash in existing storage arrays; 32% plan to deploy SSDs; 31% indicated that they will use SSDs/Flash to bolster performance for OLTP; server virtualization is the primary use for SSDs/Flash; and, 43% are spending from $101,000 to up to $500,000 annually on storage resources.

Not surprisingly for Dell, this is more of an SMB than enterprise perspective, 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.”

When asked why customers should continue to buy spinning media when flash is now at or lower-priced than high-end disk, Vigil said storage purchasers tend to be very cautious. Customers have standardized on certain media products and don’t like to change, he said. However, he added, with or without Dell, this transition is going to happen, and Dell intends to be a leader, rather than a follower.

Under The Hood

-EqualLogic PS6210 Series arrays: six models, including all-flash, hybrid and all-HDD options, offering increased throughput, up to 3 times higher performance and four times the memory of prior generations with a faster; flash-enabled arrays can support 2.4 times the virtual desktops and double the OLTP database workload performance with half the latency of prior-generation arrays; the scale-out architecture minimizes I/O bottlenecks and addressrd growing workloads with flash-enabled SANs that can achieve more than 1.2 million IOPS with less than 2-millisecond latency;

-EqualLogic Array Software 7.0: simplifies storage management, accelerates virtualization efforts by streamlining ongoing administration with new policy-based access controls and an improved user interface; a new 64-bit software version for new arrays works seamlessly with a 32-bit version for older arrays; new transparent support for 4K sector drives and volumes in EqualLogic arrays provides backward compatibility and future readiness for new hardware;

-EqualLogic SAN Headquarters 3.0: SAN monitoring software provides reporting, analysis and event monitoring across multiple EqualLogic groups; Array Software 7.0 features support; and Dell SupportAssist enhancements that improve customer support with expanded automated support case creation and new case tracking to view SupportAssist engagements; and,

-Fluid File System (FluidFS) v3 on the EqualLogic FS7610/7600 NAS appliances: decreases the capacity needed to store common enterprise file data by up to 48% by deduplicating and compressing redundant data when it’s no longer needed; expanded protocol support and adds more third-party certifications, including healthcare picture archiving and communications system (PACS) vendors.


DISCLAIMER: I am attending this event courtesy of Dell as an “invited guest”, and Dell has covered my travel and expenses (air fare and hotel). Thank you Dell and applicable Dell and FTC rules and regulations.


Author: Steve Wexler

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