Dell Targets Entry-Level Flash, Convergence, NFV Markets

AUSTIN: The opening product salvos at Dell World 2014 addressed some of the hottest – if still with the new-car-smell on them – technology trends, including , converged infrastructure and software-defined networking/Network Functions Virtualization (SDN/NFV). They were part of the product and services blitz bundled under what Michael Dell called the four customer imperatives: connect, inform, transform and protect. Among the announcements were: the Dell PowerEdge FX architecture, a new converged infrastructure solution; , ; an entry-level all-flash storage array starting at $25,000; and an NFV initiative with Brocade and Intel.

FX is Dell’s umbrella term for delivering a future-ready platform, able to bridge the way people are going to do software-defined architectures in the future, and today’s existing environment, said Brian Payne, Executive Director/Server Platform Planning, Dell. He said the company found while working with hyperconverged datacenter customers that they needed to bridge between current and emerging technologies, and were having to choose between different architectures. “We said that’s not an efficient way.”

Dell recognized that they needed a better way, something more than the currently accepted conversed system  approach, he said. “We believe it’s this workload-defined infrastructure that’s converged.” The fundamental tenet is we have to build a bridge to these future software-defined technologies, said Payne.

While commenting on the slightly more mundane storage side of the announcements, Dell’s Travis Vigil, Executive Director of Storage, was no-less excited, especially about the SC4020 Entry-Level All-Flash array. “We believe that to be the lowest entry price for any midrange array from any big vendor.” We are seeing customers really trying to get that performance boost from flash but in an economical way, he said.

The XC Series of Web-scale Converged Appliances series is part of Dell’s overall approach to software-defined storage, said Vigil, and represents the initial product shipment stemming from the Nutanix OEM relationship announced in June. Sized for different workloads, i.e. VDI, private cloud, enterprise branch offices and fast recovery.

Customers have been telling us even before shipping that they like that we’re doing these end-to-end reference architectures, as well as the single point of accountability for service and support that Dell will be providing. “There is tons of very early customer demand”.

For the short term, the Storage SC Series all-flash array may deliver the biggest bang for Dell, said Charles King, Principal Analyst, Pund-IT, Inc. “I say that because flash seems to be driving IT purchasing discussions/decisions of every sort, and the quarter over quarter growth in flash sales are pretty phenomenal, especially when contrasted with traditional storage sales. Though many may consider flash to be a solution of primary interest to enterprises, I’m going to trust Dell’s instincts here. With a few exceptions, the company has been unerring in choosing where/when to compete. Even if they’re a bit early to the game here, continuing declines in cost will make flash an entry level option sooner than later.”

Eric Sheppard, Research Director, Storage Software, IDC, agreed that the all-flash array has the biggest short-term upside. According to the research company, the all-flash array market will be worth $1.3 billion this year, so the SC array “will have a larger market… and will find more companies interested in it,” he said.

The XC hyperconverged solutions should also do well now, he added. “We see more demand than supply.”

That puts Dell in a good position, said Sheppard. “We look at Dell to be an inflection point in that market.” Although not a large segment, the hyperconverged market has been broadly served by startups up until now, but Tier one suppliers are starting to jump in. “They’re going to help meet that demand”, although it’s an early market, a young market, he said.

“With the XC we think it should help to drive an inflection point in the market… and grow the next phase of growth in that market.” There’s still a lot of demand out there for the right kind of system, said Sheppard.

Longer term, King believes the new FX/FX2 system architecture is likely to be a winner for Dell. “The market is in something of an odd state when it comes to converged systems which are mainly being used to support highly integrated appliance-style solutions and scale-out cloud infrastructures developed and manufactured by the vendors themselves. Instead, Dell went back to the drawing board and imagined what a highly flexible architecture for supporting software-defined solutions would look like. FX is the result and if the company can make the kind of impact on the market that it once did with its hyperscale system designs, the results could be very good for both Dell and its VARs.”

The Fiddly Bits & Bytes

Dell PowerEdge FX architecture is the company’s new approach to converged infrastructure with one common modular and scalable platform with servers, storage and networking integrated to help customers better manage, scale and budget for infrastructure to meet business needs. It is a 2U enclosure with six PowerEdge server, storage and network IOA sleds. Designed with integrated management capabilities, the FX architecture enables customers to easily configure, manage and add capacity to complete workload-specific blocks of IT resources.

The PowerEdge FX Architecture including PowerEdge and initial sleds (FC630, FM120x4) will be available in December 2014. The PowerEdge FX Architecture sleds including the , FN IOA, , will be available in the first half of 2015.

Dell Storage SC4020 Entry-Level configuration, for $25,000, is one of the lowest all-flash enterprise arrays in the industry. Available in five models that boast a more powerful controller with double the cache memory, twice the number of ports, and up to six times performance improvement with new hybrid arrays compared to previous generation arrays, the Dell Storage PS4210 Series is compatible and interoperable with all previous Dell arrays. The SC4020 will be available in early 2015; the  PS4210 arrays are available today.

Dell XC Series of Web-scale Converged Appliances, which combine compute, storage, hypervisor, and a VM compute platform into a single offering, are powered by Nutanix software. Also available in five models designed to support different workloads, customers can manage their virtual environments at a VM level, making the appliances particularly ideal for virtual desktop infrastructure, high performance server virtualization, and customer environments where multiple hypervisors are deployed. The XC appliances will be available starting November 11 with support for VMware ESXi and Microsoft Windows Hyper-V. Red Hat KVM hypervisor and options will be supported in the first half of 2015.

Dell, Brocade, and Intel announced plans to deliver NFV-based solutions to virtualize and accelerate enterprise service delivery at the carrier edge. The solutions leverage Dell’s newly-introduced NFV platform powered by the Intel for servers architecture and the Intel Data Plane Developer Kit combined with the Brocade Vyatta vRouter software to virtualize existing customer edge and provider edge networking functions.

DISCLAIMER: Dell paid for airfare and accommodations, and I do provide the occasional writing services to the company.

Author: Steve Wexler

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